Ep 350: Alsace’s Famed Domaine Paul Blanck with Phillippe Blanck
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Building off Episode 343 on Alsace and the Alsace class I taught, Phillippe Blanck of the famed Domaine Paul Blanck joins to talk about his family’s 420-year history in wine, the uniqueness of Alsace and its sites, and how we need to reorient wine to tasting and sensation versus elitist words. You will learn volumes about Alsace, terroir, history, and taste from this wise, very tuned-in, wonderful man.
The Blanck wine story starts in 1610 when Phillippe’s Austrian relative, Hans Blanck acquired vines in Alsace. 420 years later, Domaine Blanck continues the legacy. Phillippe operates the Domaine with his cousin Frederic. Frederic is the king of the vineyard and cellar and Phillippe is the master communicator and business person. With just 24 ha/59 acres of land, Domaine Paul Blanck makes some of the most distinctive, terroir driven, yet affordable wines in Alsace. And Phillippe tells us all about it.
Here are the show notes:
- Phillippe tells us the story of his family in Alsace. He discusses the character of the people and the wines, and how they evolved with French and German influence over the centuries. He discusses his grandfather, Paul Blanck who (with the help and advice of Burgundy producers) fought for recognition of Grand Cru sites and wines of terroir. They got assistance from Champagne producers to push through the Crémant appellation in the 1970s, and the family was also instrumental in getting distinctions for the late harvest wines – Vendange Tardive and Seleccion de Grains Noble (We also clarify that the Blanck family is large, made up of many, many distant cousins, so many Alsace wines and domaines may bear the name – Paul Blanck is the one we are discussing).
- Phillippe talks about innovation in Alsace and how very important it is to encourage young producers to push the envelope here, even if it defies tradition in some ways.
- We discuss the various Grand Cru of Blanck and how about 1/3 of the vines are moved into the basic AOC Alsace wine because the vines, although growing on ideal sites, are too young for the Grands Crus. This means their base tier wines are rich, and possess more terroir-driven character than many wines of the region.
- Phillippe gives an excellent explanation about the differences between Grand Cru wines and general AOC wines. He talks about the broader picture of Alsace wine– that it is not just orthodoxy of soil, but the unending permutations of styles available that make the wine confounding and exciting. These top tier wines are special because the sensation and precision of each and how they reflect the land and also the skill of the winemaker and what they want to show. A good Grand Cru is “readable”, according to Phillippe, it needs to say something and the winemaker must have a good understanding of the terroir to be the translator. Domaine Blanck’s famed wines are those of Schlossberg and Furstentum with other wines in Sommerbourg and Mambourg.
- I ask about the criticism of the Grand Cru system – many critics complain that there are too many Grand Cru sites without merit in Alsace that are undeserving of their status. Phillippe gives another way to look at this – he feels that there are certain sites that have no lead producer or flagship wine. Without those things the wines can’t achieve status even if the site is great. He uses the example of Andre Ostertag, who brought the Grand Cru Muenchberg to great renown in the last few decades through his innovative wines and labeling.
- We talk shop a bit – Phillippe discusses the sweetness preferences of various countries (the US likes bone dry wines, the Netherlands like wines sweeter), the importance of having an excellent based tier wine to introduce people to your brand, and how wine scores and wine fashion is a bit meaningless. Phillippe gives us a tip: for industrial wine, the lower the price, the lower the quality. This is the opposite for terroir wine.
- Phillippe discusses his other utterly fascinating passion – the Chinese art of Qigong (chi kung), that focuses on meditation, breathing, and calm for self-cultivation and positive energy flow. He has been a teacher of Qigong for 20 years and has applied the ideas to wine – he believes wine should be felt in your soul and described in sensation or “touch” terms, creating a universal language that people can relate to and using terms that evoke emotion rather than staid traditional aromatic terms.
This was a great show. I encourage you to check out the Alsace class that I taught. It’s on YouTube and free for all.
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