Alsace. Certified Biodynamic. 100% Pinot Blanc, fermented with native yeasts and aged on the lees in old oak for 9 months.
Published in 1993, a profile from British wine writer Tom Stevenson’s 600-page love letter to the region, The Wines of Alsace, began: “Since young André Ostertag took over his family’s vineyards, he has done everything except shoot the director of CIVA.” It is a slightly curious, punk-rock angle from which to begin to understand the man at the helm of Epfig’s most esteemed Domaine considering, some 30 years later in a world of wine that’s been happily roiled by the raucous necessities of vin naturel, his are wines that present clean as a whistle & often with a real air of subtlety and finesse rather than paradigm-smashing obviousness. Reading the Stevenson profile is akin to seeing sepia-tinted photos of your parents from college, hair stretched past their shoulders, balancing a joint between index & middle fingers caught in some important campus-borne conversation – it is a dispatch from another time, one that perhaps grants a stolen purview onto the rawer core of what informed their life’s ethos thereafter.
In a land where it is more common to find 10th, 11th, 12th- & so-on, generation winemakers, Domaine Ostertag, for all its well-earned acclaim, is a baby. Before being founded as a winery in 1966 by Andre’s father Adolphe, the family farm had theretofore been focused on the cultivation of Alsace’s usual agricultural sundries – alfalfa, potatoes, beets, etc. It was a slightly odd spot to want to cultivate the vine; in a region so rich with wine & historically quality wine nearly all to be found along a neat north-south spine of winegrowing villages dotting the Alsatian Wine Route along the low eastern foothills of the Vosges Mountains, Epfig was more so known for a crook in its main drag that would cause the bizarre phenomenon of countryside hamlet traffic, than wine. What’s more, the village is slightly off the wine route by several miles, and owing to this relatively narrow provinciality, took on the identity that so often accompanies it. A historically bulk-wine hub, Epfig was often the exception in this northerly sleeve of winemaking artisanality, producing the most volume of any of its villages though not much of any note. As Tom Stevenson wrote of the village in 1993, “With over 500 hectares of vineyards, it is obviously a very important wine-growing community, but I find it difficult to express an opinion as to its true potential or typicity…we have to look to other more specific growers for the character of Epfig’s wines and considering the importance of its vineyards, there are strangely few to be found.” Though, notably, he goes on to say, “Domaine Ostertag with young André Ostertag is, of course, Epfig’s best producer and in a totally different class from the others. From the quality of his wines, it is as if he really lives somewhere between Eguisheim and Bergheim.”
So from this relative no-man’s land of Alsatian wine, Adolphe Ostertag planted a modest vineyard over 3 hectares which grew to nearly 5 by 1980 (15 nowadays) when André returned from his studies in Burgundy with a mind full of winemaking know-how and an eye toward environmentalism fueled by the bombast often accompanying someone young and driven and recently given the keys to the castle. The winegrowing philosophy of André Ostertag, especially after his fated meeting with his American importer Kermit Lynch in the ‘90s, has always focused on biodynamic cultivation of the vine with his particular Alsatian flavor taking on the idea of ‘wine gardens.’ That is, the holistic approach of biodynamics that takes into consideration the entire system of a vineyard, is here broken into the ‘microclimate of each vine,’ that is, micro-terroirs nearly vine-vine, each considered and treated differently due the diversity of its soils, sub-soils, aspect, anatomy, etc.! By André’s count, there are vines on 88 different plots with 172 ‘cadastral’ parcels across 5 villages – 88 gardens of vines (his ‘Jardins’ range comes into focus) with more than double that number of considered terroirs clustered into 15 scientific hectares. It is from here –his farming vision which plaits the spiritual with the fastidiously physical – where the quality of the Ostertag wines is born.