In July 2020 we travelled through the Alsace to visit two winemaking families that turn farming upside down.
We first met Théo Schloegel of Lissner at an obscure tasting in Ghent. His wines were like a strike of lightning, a moment of clarity during a scene of dullness. Wines with expressive salinity, showing the Alsatian Wolxheim terroir. An inspiring visit followed.
The Lissner domaine spans 9 hectares in the appellation Wolxheim, one of France's first appellations to soon be fully certified organic(!). The winemakers at this domaine, founded in 1848, are father Bruno and son Théo Schloegel. Théo is a cool, young winemaker, outspoken about his ideas and with that true rebellious spirit that you often encounter in the natural wine scene.
Bruno, an agronomist and scientist took over his uncle’s Clement Lissner’s domaine (since 1848) in 2001 and was soon joined by his son Théo. They work their vineyards organic, but that’s really just a small part of their story. Inspired (as are we) by Fukuoka’s book ‘The one straw revolution’ they treat their vineyards differently from what we have seen anywhere else:
The pair have carefully established an amazingly diverse fauna and flora in their vineyards, they do not plough, mow or trim the vines but just arrange and weave the shoots during summer to let mother nature express herself. Bruno and Théo do not hesitate to plant directly into the ‘indigenous environment’, and let the new vine compete against the native flora for five to seven years before producing grapes.” — The Vine Trail
Their wines are very impressive from the first whiff until the last sip: extremely energetic, often plain salty, expressive, powerful and experimental. We love them.
The domain is a force to be reckoned with in Wolxheim, often outspoken to their neighbors and true advocates of biodiversity and nature. To make sure nature can raise it’s true voice, the family has built a completely new winery on the edge of town, after having been cramped in a small winery in the town for over a century. The winery has been thought out over decades and is both inspiring, awesome and state of the art at the same time. 4 different levels so that wine is only transported by gravity, an underground church like barrel room and all tools the winery needs to ensure their level of quality. They like to keep everything in-house and up to their high standards: presses and barrels of course, but also the bottling and labeling is all done in this high-end new cellar.
The Lissner flavor profile of highly salty, intense and powerful wines is accomplished by very long pressings (of up to 9 hours), slow fermentations and a long period on the lees. All to let the terroir, their sense of place, shine. And do these wines shine; even their Pinot Blancs can easily age for a decade. Lissner for us is thé expression of a currently well overlooked wine region: Alsace.
We believe that this domaine will soon be well-known through out the natural wine world, because we have rarely encountered a domain that can work zero-sulfur while making hugely impressive wines that can easily stay open for almost a week in the fridge without showing faults. The precision, the power, these wines rattle the cage.
Later that day we continued our travels south, towards the ancient village of Dambach-la-Ville to visit:
Florian and Mathilde Beck-Hartweg are running a winery with a history many can only dream of. The family has been making wine since (at least) 1525 and has been living in their current house since the early 1700’s. And they make truly natural wines, to make this story even more captivating.
Even though they are a young couple, who just became parents for the second time, they have already built up quite the reputation. We first heard about the wines of this 16th generation family through Racines in New York, known around the world for it’s wine list, and whilst visiting Lissner in 2020 we set up an appointment with Florian as well.
In hindsight we could have known that Florian and Theó (Lissner) were friends, seeing how much their viticulture, winemaking and stance in life are similar. Tasting their wines was a truly unique experience, from tasting their energetic entry level wines to the serious Rieslings and sticking out above all: their terroir wines mixing red and white grapes. All out of complete respect for nature, Beck-Hartweg is a vocal voice in the Alsace in reducing the usage of chemicals, both in the vineyards as in the cellar.
Besides the ultimate respect for nature, both in daily life as in connection to their terroir, we were also inspired by the economics of an almost 500 year old domain. After inheriting both building, cellar and vineyards, there’s a true feeling of adventure with Florian and Mathilde. Having no staff, they are operating under basically no overhead. Meaning that, compared to newly started domains, they can afford to take risks.
This wild adventurous spirit spoke to us in the glass: raw, uncut energy, straight from the terroir, spared from tricks but full of bold choices and bottled completely without sulfur.
This energy clearly shines through from the vineyards where (similar as Lissner) they are inspired by the teachings of Fukuoka and let nature handle most of the work in the vineyard. With climbing temperatures and vineyards on thin soil (granit bedrock), they are not plowing, nor mowing against weeds. Instead they roll the weeds flat against the ground, gradually breaking down in the soil, whilst protecting it from the sun and holding water in the soil in the dry, Alsatian summers.
The wines are made in the original but tiny 1700’s cellar, underground with the barrels on pure soil for optimal humidity. Originally this homestead held livestock for meats and milks and winemaking was just a small part of the farming operation. This reflects in the size of their beautiful cellar, with an entry via stairs that’s so small that every traditional fuder has had to be assembled inside the cellar.
Please don’t make the mistake of mixing old school with amateuristic, because this facility has been made for the production of quality wines and Beck-Hartweg is doing exactly that. Their wines are vibrant and profound, leaving a lasting impression and, at least in our case, a longing for another glass on another day. The salinity makes this a highly gastronomous domain, capable of letting its energy take dishes to a new dimension.
Markus Praat, founder at ASOP Wines