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Producer Profile: Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is owned and run by father-and-son team Léonard and Olivier Humbrecht. Olivier has the honour of being the first Frenchman to qualify as a Master of Wine. Their philosophy is to create wines true to the terroir of each vineyard, in order to show the unique diversity and complexity of each specially chosen site. It was founded by Léonard Humbrecht in 1959 when he married Geneviève Zind and merged their holdings, though the Humbrechts can claim a father-to-son tradition of winemaking dating back to the 1620s.

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Today, his son Olivier and Olivier’s wife Margaret run the Domaine. Olivier is one of the leading lights in Alsace, if not the wine world. He is a firm believer in making wine according to both organic and biodynamic principles; he is the president of Biodyvin, a certifying body for biodynamics especially for viticulture. Terroir is important to him and following these principles allows him to express a sense of place in every wine he makes.

For those unfamiliar with the term, biodynamics is the principle of planting, tending and growing using a holistic approach to agriculture; in many ways it is as much spiritual as it is scientific, sometimes following an astrological calendar, but the central tenet is that the vineyard should be a carefully managed, self-sufficient ecosystem. It features the use of herbal and mineral preparations, such as cow manure and ground quartz which are buried in cow horn for a period before being sprayed or sprinkled on the vineyard.  If that sounds like wine-voodoo to you, the results are worth it; the care and attention lavished on the vineyard and in the winery often produces exceptional results.

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The Domaine stretches over 6 communes within Alsace, and comprises of 40 hectares of vines in a patchwork of different terroirs. Near the village of Turckheim, the gravel soils of Herrenweg are ideally suited to the pungently aromatic Gewurztraminer, which needs good ripeness to show its best. In 2011, warm conditions meant they got just that and carefully picked harvest dates ensured the crop was in perfect condition.

Zind-Humbrecht has a reputation for producing wines with fantastic concentration, employing low yields alongside biodynamic viticulture so that the quality of the terroir shows itself in every vintage. Their aim is to create a balance between vine and vineyard, which gives healthy balanced grapes and harvesting by hand means that only the very best grapes make it to the winery doors. For the Turckheim Gewurztraminer Olivier uses whole-bunch pressing, followed by very slow fermentation in traditional oak casks. In some casks the fermentation can last anything from a month to a year, which along with 6 months lees contact adds even greater texture and complexity to the wine.

Traditional Alsatian oak fermentation casks

Olivier describes the wine as “…pale yellow, despite a high ripeness level of the grapes. The nose doesn’t show such richness and is quite delicate and subtle, only showing a few floral aromas (roses, geranium). The palate is unctuous and pleasing, there is no heaviness as the alcohol is quite low for a Gewurztraminer. Like many 2011 wines, this wine will age elegantly. Perfect with many spicy dishes!”