The journey from Zurich airport to Turckheim seems straightforward on the map but a series of ambushes by diversions and roadworks delays our arrival until 11.30pm and the bedraggled group of wine professionals, otherwise known as the JN Taste Team, suffer the indignity of a whole day without wine – for some it represents their first “dry” day in quite some time.
Next morning sees a major improvement in spirits as we make for Domaine Bott-Geyl, based in the charming town of Beblenheim. We receive a high-key welcome from the winery Schnauzer whose bark, thankfully, disguises a warm-hearted and friendly temperament, much in the style of her owners. Jean-Christoffe Bott, the winery’s young winemaker and director suggests a trip to the vineyards and within minutes we are strolling through the elevated Sonnenglanz Grand Cru vineyard admiring the view of Beblenheim and the rolling Alsace landscape.
Jean-Christoffe is so obviously in his element in the vineyard and his attachment to the land and his commitment to viticultural integrity are unmistakeable. Biodynamic practices are the rule (the vineyards were converted to organic practices in 2000 and biodynamic in 2002) but Jean-Christoffe is no zealot and in fact the term “biodynamic” fails to make an appearance throughout the day – a sign of the confidence he has in his winemaking methods – no need to preach – the wines will later convert any lingering doubters. The Bott-Geyl vines are sporting their first small buds and between the rows there is quite a lot of greenery in contrast to the nearby Cooperative-owned vines which appear carefully manicured and well weeded. Jean-Christoffe explains that the Cooperative uses herbicides whereas biodynamic culture eschews such chemical intervention, preferring to manually hoe between rows.By hoeing the young vines to cut the embryonic roots near the soil surface, the vine forces its main roots deeper into the soil.
We proceed to visit the other four Bott-Geyl Grand Cru sites – Schoenenbourg, Mandelberg, Furstentum and Schlossberg. As we converse, the principles of biodynamic agriculture gradually become clear: controlling yields and vigour, high density planting, and application of the various biodynamic manures. As Jean-Christoffe sums it up: For the best results, the vines must be in balance to be able to spread and grow in their natural rhythm and not to excess, in soil that is full of life. Thus, the plant will give of its best.
On our return to Bott-Geyl HQ, we taste an array of wines. The Grand Crus stand out, with Schoenenbourg Riesling and Sonnenglanz Gewurztraminer particularly impressive, but everything from the Pinot d’Alsace to the Grand Crus is testament to Jean-Christoffe’s viticultural skills and the effectiveness of biodynamic agriculture.
The sensual experiences continue with a fabulous lunch provided by Jean-Christoffe’s mother and his wife Valérie – smoked duck and Tarte Tatin linger in the memory, as does the juicy Pinot Noir that accompanies the meal. As we bid our farewells, we leave Bott-Geyl with a much better understanding of the nature of biodynamic practices and an appreciation of the beautiful wines that are its creations.