Jean-Michel Deiss likes to talk spit.
That his family, winegrowers since 1744, are established as the Alsatian version of winemaking royalty probably helps him to get away with it.
“Wine today is an industrial project,” he told me (through interpretation) during a media tour visit to Domaine Marcel Deiss‘ Bergheim winery. “But great wine is not a question of taste. Great wine is like a [good] book; as soon as you finish reading, you look for someone you love [to share it with].”
Or, in my case, you put it on the Internet to share it with total strangers. But the point is a solid one. Anyway, we were talking about spit.
“Salivation is how you measure a wine’s energy,” Deiss continued. “You don’t need to be an expert for that. And there’s no salivation without terroir. It’s like geography in the mouth. Where you get salivation, you get terroir.”
“It’s not an efficient concept,” he added, at which point he showed multiple rips in his pants, presumably the result of his efforts in the vineyard and the cellar.
Domaine Marcel Deiss is still a family-run outfit, utilizing about 20 people and overseeing about 30 hectares of vineyards, many of which are old vine field blends (or, as they like to call them “companion planted” vines) of Alsace’s key grape varieties, with roots deep enough that the different varieties essentially ripen around the same time. Deiss’ focus is now solely on vineyard site (rather than on variety), as well as on biodiversity, minimal sulfur additions, and no filtration. Lest you think that this ostensibly hands-off approach should make life at Deiss easier, Jean-Michel’s son Mathieu echoed his father’s sentiment regarding the amount of extra work required by their approach; “with ‘natural’ wine, you have to be more precise in the cellar, not less.” At which point, he offered up the next generation’s version of dad’s ripped pants: according to his cell phone, he had logged the equivalent of 100 kilometers of walking in the last four days alone…