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Chapoutier champions Sylvaner and dry Riesling

Notorious Rhône producer Michel Chapoutier said he plans to champion Sylvaner and dry Riesling at the global launch of his new label from Alsace, called Schieferkopf.

Speaking at the tasting in London on Tuesday this week, he said: “There is a position for Sylvaner and we have to defend that,” adding: “I have been very impressed by some of the Franken wines and Sylvaner is a good introduction to Alsace.”

As for the absence of residual sugar in his new range of seven labels from the 2009 vintage (see below), he said that the Alsace climate is suitable for the production of dry wines and that it would always struggle to compete with Germany for sweet Rieslings. “We are not boxing in the same division,” he said, stressing Germany’s supremacy.

All his wines have, however, undergone a 100% malolactic conversion because, he said, “lactic acid is more stable”, and “we wanted wines with a lower level of acidity that we don’t have to hide with residual sugar.”

He also said that he was attracted to Alsace because of “the diversity of soils and terroirs and the quality of Riesling.” Continuing, and comparing the region to his homeland, the Rhône, he said: “The Rhône has a patchwork of soils that is unique in Europe, but if you look for another area with such diversity of soils and terroirs, then it is Alsace.”

In terms of Schieferkopf’s location within Alsace, he explained that he chose Bernardvillé in the north of the region due to the soils. “We wanted to go to the north of Alsace, not the south, where the soils are more heavy… because we wanted wines with minerality.”

He further explained that the domaine includes one of the highest vineyards in Alsace at about 380m and that the altitude, when combined with a southerly exposure, enables the slow and gentle ripening of the grapes, while a small proportion of clay, gives the wines richness.

“A percentage of clay compensates for the lack of warmth at this altitude…. if we had sandstone it would be too severe to have pleasure,” he explained.

Though not yet certified, the Schieferkopf domaine, which literally translates as “head of schist”, is managed under organic and biodynamic principles and Chapoutier stressed: “We don’t want to make a Chapoutier wine – we will subordinate ourselves to the terroir.”

Chapoutier, together with four other shareholders in the Alsace project, have named themselves “Club des cinq” from the title of a children’s novel, and plan to slowly expand the vineyard holding. The fellow investors, who are all friends, are: Michel Arnoult from Metro Cash & Carry, Jerôme Gallot from Caisses des Depots et Consignations, Dominique Heintz, who works as a lawyer, and Mark Arbogast from Fischer Biere.

Alsace, Chapoutier also said, appealed because of its mono-variety approach, as well as its proximity to Germany, because his mother is from Stuttgart.

Currently the range, which is distributed in the UK by Mentzendorff, comprises:

Pinot Gris 2009 (RSP, £14 per bottle)
Sylvaner 2009 (RSP, £11 per bottle)
Riesling 2009 (RSP, £14 per bottle)
Alsace Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2009 (RSP, £18 per bottle)
Alsace Grand Cru Kastelberg 2009 (RSP, £18 per bottle
Alsace Lieu-Dit Buehl 2009 (From a southfacing 1.2ha plot on blue schist plot that makes up the domaine) (RSP, £25 per bottle)
Alsace Lieu-Dit Fels 2009 (From a plot of 0.8ha at a higher altitude than Buehl) (RSP, £28 per bottle)

Patrick Schmitt, 07.04.2011

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