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Domaine Charles Baur, Eguisheim

We estimate that for every wine we eventually include in our range we taste over 30 samples; most are rejected because either they not good enough, or not interesting enough, or simply because they are too expensive for what they are.  A few areas of our list present us with a different sort of challenge however, namely that we are spoilt for choice and it is difficult to know what to leave out rather than what to include; it’s a nice problem to have!  One such area is Alsace, which presents the further challenge for us of how to connect UK wine lovers with these fascinating and original wines which seem so often to be overlooked, or at least misunderstood.
Overall quality and consistency in Alsace is excellent.  Certainly there are producers that are less good, or make wine on a more commercial scale than one would ideally like, and vintages vary of course.  As ever, we try to sniff out producers whose wines offer that little bit extra.
The narrow streets of Eguisheim are full of
flowers and charming buildings.

Domaine Charles Baur in Eguisheim first came to our attention last year when a sample of their award-winning 2010 Pinot Blanc landed in front of us.  On the strength of the sample we dipped our commercial toe in the shallow end and bought a few cases.  There was an initial surge of interest and when we highlighted the wine again we could have sold twice our remaining stocks!  My annual family holiday this year saw us spend a week in the Vosges Mountains – within striking distance of Alsace – and I arranged to pay Domaine Charles Baur a visit.  The day was blisteringly hot and we were all glad to find that the water in the village fountain was icy cold and, along with many others, stood around it dangling our hands in the water in an attempt to keep cool!

Arnaud Baur looks too young to be such a talented winemaker.  He has excellent pedigree however, having obtained a Masters Degree in agricultural engineering specialising in winegrowing and oenology.  Both his father (Amand) and his grandfather (Charles) made wine at the estate and in 2009 Arnaud and Amand made the decision to begin the transition to fully organic production in all of their 57 vineyard sites and they have been fully organic since 2011.  The 3 year qualification process means that from 2014 they will be able to publicise their organic status on their labels, but you can rest assured that their wines are already made with organically grown grapes.
Arnaud Baur checks a bottle of his Cremant d'Alsace
undergoing its secondary fermentation in bottle.

Arnaud very kindly showed us round his immaculate winery which included both large and small oak casks.  Arnaud explained that he matures some of his wines in oak though the barrels are so old that they do not impart any flavour to the wines, he simply uses them because experience has proved that they make wines that are more “open” with their flavours than those fermented and aged in stainless steel.  Arnaud is also investing in a new bottling line.  It’s quite usual for winemakers to take huge pride in their bottling lines, mostly because it represents their single biggest item of expenditure, but Arnaud explained that he is replacing his not because it needs it but because a more modern line will enable him to reduce his already low sulphite levels further still.  He is tremendously keen to make wines as naturally as possible and his care extends to every part of the process from the vineyard to the glass.

The serious (mostly) business of tasting

When we taste there is a similar attention to detail, with Arnaud tasting each wine himself first to ensure he is completely happy before he lets us anywhere near the sample!  We begin with his Cremant and progress through the noble white grapes of Alsace; Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, with Grand Cru versions introduced at strategic points and finally we taste a couple of Grand Cru Vendages Tarvives (2009 Pinot-Gris from Eichberg and 2009 Gewurztraminer from Pfersigberg).  The common theme that runs throughout all the wines is purity of fruit and a degree of restraint.  Each wine is not only a textbook version of its grape variety but also shows a delicacy not often seen in Alsace.  Wines from this region can be made in a blousy and extrovert style (Pinot-Gris and Gewurztraminer especially) yet Baur’s are fine and pure.  There is still plenty of flavour in the more aromatic varieties, but it’s nicely managed so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  Is it the neutral oak casks?  Is it the organic grapes? Or is it Arnaud’s obsessive attention to detail in every part of the process?  In truth it’s probably all of these and more factors besides, but these wines have that extra note of class that marks them out from their peers.  I would encourage you to explore these wines further yourself; I’m sure you will be impressed!

JW and Arnaud Baur

We have shipped 4 wines;

2011 Pinot Blanc
Drier than medium, rich and rounded with floral scents and white fruit aromas.  Perfect with fish, seafood, shellfish and white meats or as an aperitif.  So often Pinot Blanc can be unremarkable, or at least be overshaddowed by the more extrovert grape varieties, but this is ripe and pure and is an excellent illustration of just how good Pinot Blanc can be.
2011 Riesling, Cuvee Charles
Made from 25 year old vines this is deep yellow-gold colour with light green tints. The bouquet has a floral and citrus fruit character. The palate is fresh and crisp with keen lime and grapefruit flavors. The wine is dry, well balanced and bodied, with a long finish.  Textboox Riesling; fine, elegant and long.
2010 Riesling Grand Cru Brand
The Baur family bought their vineyard in the Grand Cru Brand in 2008, it lies 5km to the north of Eguisheim on a sand and granite soil which Arnaud regards as the best terroir for Riesling where the natural steel and minerality of the variety really shine. 
Made from 30 year old vines this is medium intensity golden yellow colour. The nose is composed of white flower and intense grapefruit flavours. The palate is fresh, rich and crisp. Remarkable harmony between grapefruit, white flower flavours and an intense but silky minerality.  You will struggle to find a finer example.
2010 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg
The Grand Cru Pfersigberg is on the outskirts of Eguisheim where the soil is clay & limestone which retains the warmth of the sun very well and this, along with the south-east facing aspect, usually ensures early and full ripening of the grapes.  The Baur family have 1 hectare of 25 year old Gewurztraminer vines in Pfersigberg.
This is a generous wine with spicy hints and an aroma of wilted rose petals evolving with time into grilled almonds and candied apricots. The wine has finesse and freshness.  Gewurztraminer can so often be overpowering, but not this one.  Sure, it has plenty of flavour but it has balance and elegance too.  A very fine example indeed.

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Most of Eguisheim looks like this...
Cooling down at the village fountain...


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