Trimbach: grand cru system now unavoidable
The grand cru classification system is an unavoidable element in the marketing of Alsace wines, Jean Trimbach, owner of Domaine Trimbach, says.
Although as much as 30% of Domaine Trimbach’s vineyard area is in grand cru sites (grand cru represents 4% of Alsace vineyards as a whole), Trimbach has historically been critical of the grand cru system and chosen to market its wines based on its name alone.
Its top Riesling cuvées, Cuvée Frédéric Emile and Clos St Hune, are made from grapes grown exclusively on grand cru sites.
The principal criticism of the system has been that its delimitation is too large and therefore does not accurately reflect the different terroirs of the region.
However, in an interview with the drinks business, Jean Trimbach said the international interest in Alsace grand cru was now such that the estate could no longer avoid the system.
“It’s a kind of evolution – not to say a revolution – at Trimbach, he said. “But I think we cannot today escape the grand cru any more because with all the media, with all the fuss and the buzz and whatever around the system.
“People know the grand cru today. You can go to Hong Kong, you can go everywhere and they know there are 51 grands crus, they know exactly what the top grand cru are, so you cannot escape the grand cru game any more.
“There is a young generation of collectors, sommeliers – they know the grand cru, they want to drink the grand cru.”
Grand Cru Geisberg
Last year the 390-year-old Domaine Trimbach launched its first ever grand cru wine from a 2.6ha plot in Ribeauvillé acquired by the estate in 2008: the 2009 Grand Cru Geisberg.
Trimbach said that although the level of production for the cuvée was small, the response had been impressive, with the wine selling out within a single day of release.
“It was quite a statement,” he said.
Jean Trimbach told db that a grand cru “collection” would follow, beginning with a Grand Cru Schlossberg from the 2014 vintage. This will be released in 2017.
“We are now developing a little grand cru collection,” Trimbach said. “Riesling Frédéric Emile will always remain, Riesling Clos St Hune will always remain, but on the side we will have a little grand cru collection.
“We can play – 30% of our 50ha are grand cru so we have the vineyards.
“The next one to come will be next year. It will be Grand Cru Schlossberg from Alsace – Schlossberg from Kaisersberg – and this one will be 2014, which is just fabulous.
Domaine Trimbach is regarded as a Riesling specialist within the Alsace region. While Riesling accounts for around 22% of plantings in Alsace, at Trimbach the variety accounts for more than 45%.
Today Trimbach owns around 50ha of vineyards in Alsace, making it one of the largest wineries in the region in terms of vineyard ownership. The estate expanded significantly with the purchase of a 5ha site from Ribeauvillé, including Grand Cru Osterberg, in November 2015.
Elisa Pierato, key brands manager for Domaine Trimbach importer Enotria and Coe, said that although the wines of Alsace were some of the best-value fine wines in the world, markets such as the UK remained a challenge, with more work needed to achieve broader recognition for the region’s wines, especially in the on-trade.
“We are very lucky because with Trimbach we don’t struggle in a way, because the name is well-known,” she said.
“Having said that, Alsace is still quit a difficult category to push and there are other categories which are much more well known, so in that respect we still need to work to make sure that Alsace as a region gets better recognition in [restaurant wine] lists.
Jean Trimbach added that, although the situation was slowly changing, the UK market still lagged behind the US and Scandinavia.
“The UK is still a bit behind, compared to what’s happening in Scandinavia or now in the US and so on,” he said.
“If I take Denmark, for instance – Denmark is a population of six million people. We sell as much to Denmark as we do into the UK, so there is a beautiful potential in the UK, but it takes more time, and I understand because you have such a pressure here from Australia, from all those regions.”
Domaine Trimbach exports around 90% of its production. Currently the UK accounts for around 4% of exports, though the estate is aiming for 10%. The US accounts for around 35%; Asia 6%.
Jean Trimbach also revealed the domaine had recently achieved the milestone of being served in every three Michelin-star restaurant in France – the only Alsace producer to haver achieved such a feat.
La Bouitte in Savoie – the newest three-star restaurant in France, having earned its third star in 2014– became the 26th and final three Michelin-star to add Domaine Trimbach to its wine list a few weeks ago, Trimbach said.
Best vintage ever
Jean Trimbach also offered his thoughts on the last two vintages in Alsace, commenting that the 2014 vintage was, for Riesling aficionados, “possibly the best in the history of Alsace”, while 2015 also produced an “outstanding” crop despite challenging weather conditions.
“2015 was the heat, 2015 was the drought – the length of the drought and the length of the heatwave, it was almost a month and a half,” he said.
“Thank god we got some rain in mid-August. The rain in August saved the crop and the crop turned out to be outstanding. Drought and heat, normally it means low acidity, high pH and – wow – it was exactly the opposite – high acidity and very, very low pH and we were like, how is it possible? It never ever happened before – and the wines are delicious.
“So we turned out to produce a fantastic 2015 vintage to be remembered, for sure, and 2014 is, for Riesling aficionados, probably one of the best vintages ever.
“There is bright acidity, there is a clarity, a purity, a precision in the wine which we never had before, so for 2014 top Riesling, the reserve, the grand cru quality Riesling, at Trimbach but in Alsace in general is probably one of the very if not the very finest vintage ever.”