2004 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Pinot Blanc Rosenberg

Domaine Barmes-Buecher Pinot Blanc Rosenberg We'll never forget the first time we visited the Barmes-Buechers. After giving us a tour of their biodynamically farmed vineyards that dot the hills around Wettolsheim, Genevieve and Francois said they had something really special to show us. So we all piled into their car and headed into the Vosges Mountains to destinations unknown.

After an hour's drive, we pulled up to the Haags' farm, which impresses the visitor with it's extraordinary mound of organic comost--possibly the largest this side of the Alps. The Haags, it turns out, supply Genevieve and Francois with the compost needed in the Barmes-Buechers' regimen of biodynamic farming. The Haags, who seem to compete with the Barmes-Buechers for hosting generosity, prepared us an unforgettable meal of their own organic ham and free-range chicken, followed by home-grown blueberry tart. Needless to say, we washed it all down with Francois and Genevieve's wine.

Domaine Barmes-BuecherFrancois is a remarkable experimenter, the kind of guy who cannot resist buying a new gadget or trying out a technique that he's read about somewhere. After he and Genevieve took over winemaking responsibilities from their respective families, they bought state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled fermenting tanks and installed air conditioning in their cellar. As it turns out, these were crucial investments since the microclimate here is so hot that it actually mirrors that of Perpignan in Languedoc-Roussillon.

As in the rest of France, Alsace's 2003 vintage was characterized by extreme heat, and Francois claims that 2004 was nearly "catastrophic" until the end of August. "Following a good early flowering after the stressed vintage of 2003, it was necessary to eliminate a lot of fruit. But then July was so-so and August was awful. The grapes at the end of August were not ripe, although by then the crop level was no longer huge." A favorable September ultimately saved the vintage, and cool August weather helped preserve malic acidity. The result, according to Francois, was "very gastronomic, sappy wines with a very good combination of late-arriving sugars and full acids. The wines are saline and tasty, and they excite the palate. And yet they are also very open."

Pinot Blanc can baffle even the world's most competent winemakers. In its worst form, the wine can be flabby, thin, and boring. Outside Alsace, winemakers have tried fruitlessly to emulate what they taste in a wine like this--a wine that is bursting with fruit yet maintains vibrancy and acidity (Pinot Blanc is naturally a low-acid grape). They key in Alsace, especially in a vineyard like Rosenberg, is in the soil. Here, the finished wines reflect where they were grown--in meter-deep shale laced with rocky limestone.

This wine shimmers with a green-gold hue. On the palate it's rich and full but has an almost wet-stone minerality on the finish. It's bone dry yet features the sort of nectar fruit that gives some wines their inimitable richness. Drink now-2012.