May 15, 2013

Appel on wine: Pfister family helping to put Alsace's Bas-Rhin on the map


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"With copper, if you spray on Day 1, and it rains on Day 2, then you have to spray again on Day 3. So in 2012, most of the organic growers in Alsace sprayed twice as much as we did. That is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, twice as much compaction of the soil."

This independent attitude aligns with Pfister's general approach toward some of the most contentious issues in contemporary winemaking. All harvesting of the family's 40 different plots on 25 acres is performed by hand. Pfister and her parents still work the vineyards themselves, aided by two assistants and 20 pickers during harvest (the same 20 every year).

All the crushed juice runs by gravity into stainless steel tanks (oak foudres are still the majority in Haut-Rhin, and were phased out at Pfister by Andre). Fermentation begins naturally with indigenous yeasts, guided by just enough temperature control to prevent heat spikes through the variable autumn. Fermentation lasts between three weeks and two months, depending on vintage, which is eons in an era of cultivated yeasts and rushed wines.

Alsace, like Germany, is well known for profligate use of sulfur during winemaking. Pfister charts a middle path, endeavoring to utilize as little sulfur as possible but refraining from fanaticism.

"In Alsace there is some trend toward natural wines with no sulfur, but I'm not fond of that because you lose the precision that we want to have. We use very low doses at pressing; during fermentation nothing; then a little bit after fermentation and a final adjustment at bottling."

In the glass, this is evident. While Pfister wines have the hallmarks of the Germanic varietals' exactitude and acid/fruit balance, they're absent the flinty edge that excessive sulfur produces.

Pfister produces all of the region's traditional varietals, but for now the wines' Maine distributor, Crush, has chosen to distribute just the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. These are a splendid introduction to the wines, though I sincerely hope they generate enough interest that Crush will be convinced to bring in at least one of the Rieslings.

The Pinot Blanc 2010 ($24), actually a 50-50 blend with the native grape Auxerrois, is beautifully perfumed and stout. Rich but taut and unflagging, it's like a Meyer lemon marmalade, with a toothsome seed quality and the bitter hint of blood orange. The finish is almost unrealistically long, so that while it performs admirably at a meal it has to be a slow, conscious meal. If you sip and chew in too quick a sequence, you'll cut short the magnificent subtleties in both your food and your drink.

The Pinot Gris 2011 ($28) is just stunning. My notes from first taste read "long, long loooonnngggg," and when I bought a bottle later, the comment seemed an understatement. Ripe and quivering, full-bodied but athletically agile, it is somehow both classic and unconventional: classically oily and touched by smoke, but clean of line and measured to the nanometer. A perfectly refreshing summer wine, this Pinot Gris is nonetheless autumnal in how it holds onto every last glimmer of light.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at


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