Six Rising Star Winemakers of Alsace

Alsace isn't exactly known for being a haven for the avant-garde. But despite the region's Byzantine appellation system and cultural friction, a small group of pioneering winemakers offers a glimpse of a more radical future.

Alsatian wine tends to be so dominated by the same few prominent names—Trimbach and Hugel, in particular—that I wonder at times if it distracts from the search for the region’s new talent.

This isn’t to dismiss its established properties; in addition to those two top names, wines from producers like Albert Boxler and Zind-Humbrecht are the best they’ve ever been. So are many wines from the original school of naturalists, like Jean-Pierre Frick. But it is harder in Alsace than in many regions to find new blood, in part because the economics of starting a new property are prohibitive compared to a place like Beaujolais, and there’s little tradition of micro-négociants purchasing fruit the way they might in Burgundy.

That said, ambitious work is taking place in Alsace around the fringes, and even if the fail rate on some of the natural producers is higher than it should be, there’s great base material to work with—and often exceptional and unexpected results. (All that skin-fermented gewurztraminer, for instance.)

Here are six up-and-coming properties worth knowing. In addition, keep an eye out for wines from Domaine Pfister, Vincent Fleith, Vignoble des 2 Lunes, Charles & Philippe Brand, Domaine Agapé, Christophe Lindenlaub and Valentin Zusslin.

Domaine Rietsch

This property in Mittelbergheim, to the north near Strasbourg, isn’t exactly new (it was founded in 1970). But siblings Jean-Pierre and Annelise have pushed it toward the avant-garde, not just in organic farming and less sulfur use, but a mix of classic single-vineyard wines and curiosities, like the skin-macerated pinot gris called Quand le Chat N’est Pas Là, as well as very good sparkling crémant, Alsace’s other specialty. That they do all equally well shows how it’s possible to embrace both tradition and change.

Catherine Riss

Tucked into a side valley, the village of Reichsfeld is where Riss, whose parents owned a local restaurant, expresses what she calls “the magic of schist.” She makes a very good traditional riesling from the Schieferberg vineyard, but her skin-fermented whites, along with a pinot noir and a white blend called Dessous de Table (“Under the Table”), show her versatility. Riss is a one-woman force to reckon with, farming all her own parcels and navigating the steep hills in her Hilux pickup truck. She’s exactly the kind of young talent Alsace needs more of.

Jean-Marc Dreyer

On the surface, it would be easy to paint Dreyer as hard-core minimalist, with the copper biodynamic dynamizer in his courtyard, apprenticeships with naturalists like Patrick Meyer and posters of a cartoon character named “Vincent Sulfites” (i.e., vin sans sulfites, “unsulfured wine”). And yes, his wines are quixotic—like a riesling made in the Jura sous-voile style. But they also work. My visit to Dreyer was the perfect reminder that for all the love of philosophy in natural wine, what matters is talent.

Domaine Clé de Sol

Among Alsace’s new guard, Jean and Simon Baltenweck take a much more subtle approach than most. After excising their family’s three and a half hectares from the local co-op, they began making quiet but texturally sublime wines, including a remarkable riesling from the Rosacker grand cru. They use very little sulfur dioxide, but also brown their juice and are downright obsessive with a long pressing process. As Jean puts it: “It’s not about ‘vin nature’ on the label, it’s about having a stable wine.”

Laurent Barth

Barth has been bottling his own wine since 2004, and yet his wines remain mystifyingly unknown. More’s the pity, because the range he makes from his tiny Bennwihr cellar—nuanced pinot noir, as well as a Granite riesling from the grand cru Schlossberg, remarkably fragrant old-vine gewurztraminer and minerally, intense muscat—is exceptional. And because he’s fond of the region’s archaic varieties, there’s also a very good Pinot d’Alsace, mostly from auxerrois.

Vignoble du Rêveur

While Mathieu Deiss also assists his father Jean-Michel at the family’s domaine, he has a side project sourced from his own seven hectares, which, for now, go into two wines. His white Vibrations may be riesling from Bennwihr, but it’s simply marked “sec” (“dry”), deliberately eschewing grape names just like his father. It’s a bit more fine-boned than the Deiss wines, but a great start. The same principle is in effect with his Pierres Sauvages, a blend of three pinots (blanc, gris, noir) and Singulier (a skin-macerated blend).