While this domain may remain relatively discrete with the general public, it has been the object of critical acclaim for many years now. The reason behind this success is undoubtedly the domain’s exceptional viticultural patrimony, the attention paid to the quality and the diversity of the vines, and the discerning work in the cellar. We had the chance to interview Jacky Barthelmé…
Domaine Albert Mann is part of Alsatian history. The domain is the result of two important winemaking families’ coming together: the Mann family, winemakers since the beginning of the 17th century and the Barthelmé family, the current owners, winemakers since 1654. Today, the Barthelmé brothers are at the helm of this small family domain.
Located in Wettolsheim (Haut Rhin), in the heart of Alsace, the domain spans almost 24 hectares and over a hundred parcels for the vineyards, thanks to the area’s great geological diversity. To make the most of this unique heritage of parcels, much focus is placed on replanting vines through massal selection. According to Jacky Barthelmé, “enology has arrived at its limit. As we are farmers, we work the land and nowadays, there is still some progress that can be made in the vineyard and in caring for the vines”. With Riesling, Pinot Blanc Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Muscat, the domain’s vines are on average 35 years old, though there are some very beautiful old vines over 60 years old.
All the domain’s parcels (recognized as biodynamic since 2000) are plowed – some by horses – and are often left with grass growing, usually in every other row. Biodynamic preparations are applied (including homemade compost) to enrich and stimulate soil microbial life. Harvests are of course manual, when the grapes reach perfect ripeness, but still relatively early: the doing strives for finesse and freshness above all. Yields are rather low (between 30 and 40 hl/ha), but according to Jacky, the vigneron: “the most important thing for us is to be very precise with harvest dates, and to adapt the date for each parcel. Nowadays, we pick grapes that my grandparents could have only dreamed of harvesting, grapes that are well balanced and ripe. We can spread the harvests over two months if need be, we aren’t forced to complete everything in 15 days as before.”
The bulk of the work is done in the vineyards: “Our work is mostly based on observation, we take time to observe and analyze things, to try new methods of work. This requires a lot of skill. Making great wines requires a lot of work in the vineyards.”
In the cellar, the work is low intervention, and finesse is the utmost priority. Extractions are very gentle, to obtain clear juices that won’t need the addition of oenological products, except sulfur in low doses. “The grapes already have everything they need, we don’t need to intervene too much,” says Jacky, “We try to use as little sulphur as possible, we are below the maximum permissible doses for biodynamic winemaking, but since we are not followers of a sulfur-free method, we add some after fermentation”. The grapes for our red wines, some of which are left in whole bunches, mature in Burgundy barrels for about 17 months. For sweet wines, pressing is vertical, an “old fashioned style” to gently squeeze botrytised grapes. For these wines, the fermentations never raise the alcohol level very high (between 9 and 11°).
The Barthelmé brothers work hard to produce wines of great elegance, and they do so with success: “I like finesse, which is difficult to obtain. Where richness and power are easy to achieve, finesse is harder to obtain, but this excellent terroir helps.”
The result is impressive, and this domain is now one of the most famous of Alsace. Its racy, elegant wines are prized for their accessibility, their complexity and depth.
Jacky Barthelmé recommends prawns in a piri piri sauce for his Gewurtzraminer (or pasta with chilli, garlic, olive oil), whereas his slightly sweet Pinot Gris wines are delicious with seared duck with balsamic vinegar. For the Muscats, he recommends sticking to the classics, with asparagus, for instance.
Wines from domain Albert Mann currently for sale