| Robert Blanck’s family has always farmed the slopes of the Vosges Mountains near the town of Obernai in Alsace, France. In 1732 they started selling wine from their vineyards. One of the oak casks they used then is still in the cellars.|
Current owner and winemaker Robert took over from his father Eugene in 1996 to run the business with his wife Brigitte and now daughter Valerie is being trained to take over in due course, which will be a break from a 300 year father-to-son tradition.
You can see Germany from here, across the Rhine and during the Second World War the Blanck’s ancestral house built in 1655 was destroyed by allied bombing. The replacement concrete wine cellar built in the 1950’s is decorated by an arch they salvaged and lined with old barrels that survived. A family custom was that a small barrel was made on the birth of a son and filled with wine for him to open on manhood, and the cellar holds many generations of these blackened and carved kegs.
Robert Blanck farms some 20 hectares (49.5 acres) of vineyards and makes about 80,000 bottles annually. All his wine is aged in wood. “We only make what we grow”, he says. “We are independent winegrowers, and we sell only to private clients, restaurants — and visitors like you.”
We were about forty people on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam who’d booked an optional tour to visit Obernai and a winery. I wondered how many times Robert had delivered his talk and how much the ban on carrying liquids in hand baggage had impacted on sales to visitors like us. I bought several bottles to drink on board with dinner, the ship charges no corkage.
The group were mostly from the United States who asked many questions about the use of sulphur, a subject that seemed to be of great concern to them. Robert Blanck is a member of Tyflo, a group dedicated to sustainable viticulture and who operate to standards certified by IOBC (International Organisation for Biological and Integrated Control). Robert uses minimal sulphur to sterilise wooden casks and wine.
We tasted four wines.
2010 Riesling (7 Eur) had been recently bottled after aging for 18 months in wood. It was bone dry with just 1 gL residual sugar, crisp and light with a tangy finish and was lacking the oily and petrol tones often found in this variety which I dislike.
2009 Dorenberg Vielle Vignes Gewurztraminer (10.40 Eur). Slightly oily texture with a litchees and rose petal flavours. This comes of 80 year vines in his Dorenberg vineyard. Sweet at 14gL RS Robert recommended serving it at 10C (50F)and sipping with cheese. Gewurztraminer, spelled in Alsace without accents over the ‘u’, is Roberts most planted variety with 30% of his vineyards.
Cremant d’Alsace. (8 Eur) In France of course only the region of Champagne can use that name and so Cremant is used by other regions for sparkling wines made by the traditional method. I was surprised to learn that a quarter of all Alsace wine production is Cremant. Robert varies the grapes used for the blends, but Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris play a large part along with, Pinot Blanc and Auxerois. The wine was delightfully creamy with a soft foam. We asked is Robert hand riddled (turned) the bottles and he shrugged. “I did so for eight years and it is just so much hard work for one man,” he said. So he bought a gyro-pallet which does the job automatically.
Pinot Noir ‘Rouge d’Ottrott Vielle Vignes’ 2009 (9 Eur) comes from old vines (vielle vignes) grown around the village of Ottrott. This was a really enjoyable wine with good body and depth of fruit and a lingering finish.
Unless you visit Alsace you are unlikely to encounter the wines of Robert Blanck but I enjoyed meeting an artisan grower and winemaker. This French farmer learned English to tell visitors about his family and wines. His eyes glint with delight and he cracks jokes as he proudly shows us over his family winery with the evidence in front of his eyes that he is just the latest link of winemakers in a line stretching back almost 300 years, and hopefully far ahead.
Vins d’Alsace Robert Banck
167 route d’Ottrott
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Disclosure: Peter F May visited Alsace and the winery at his own expense and paid for all travel,tastings and wines.
Location of the Robert Blanck winery
Robert Blanck, Owner Winemaker
The winery cellar, note at the far end is the ancient arch rescued from the ruins of the family house.
Detail from the arch, the date above is 1653
Barrel cellar, the small ones on top were especially made for his ancestors on their birth and filled with wine for them to later enjoy.
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