Ep 351: Severine Schlumberger of Domaine Schlumberger and the very French side of Alsace
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Séverine Schlumberger joins us for the third installment of our mini-tour of Alsace (first installment was Ep 343). To provide a counterpoint to Phillippe Blanck of Domaine Paul Blanck (Ep 250), the Schlumberger family is more devoutly French in attitude and Séverine tells us a different story of her family’s heritage, attitudes, and how Domaine Schlumberger developed and grew to become one of the largest family-owned domaines in Alsace.
Founded by Nicolas Schlumberger in 1810, Domaine Schlumberger produces all estate-bottled wines from southern Alsace. The Schlumberger vineyards are among the largest in Alsace, and one of the largest blocks of contiguous vineyards in all of France. The Schlumberger domains operate and vinify 140 ha/346 acres of vines, half of which are spread over 4 Grands Crus, which have been in the family since 1810 — Kitterlé, Kessler, Saering and Spiegel. The vineyard is sustainably managed, 30 ha is biodynamically farmed, and the Domaine is working on organic certification for the whole property.
Séverine Schlumberger, co-owner of the Domaine, is part of the 7th generation running the estate. Here are the show notes:
First we tackle history, as it is so essential in Alsace…
- Séverine tells us about her family history in Alsace. She discusses how her family came from Germany to Guebwiller and how their family grew in size and diversified from wine to textiles, finance and oil in a network that stretched from Alsace, to Paris, to the United States. Séverine paints a picture of a family who very much considered themselves French and defied German occupation each time it occurred in the 19th and 20th
- I ask Séverine if she finds that her family was particularly egalitarian because the prestige cuvées are named after the women: Christine, Anne, and Clarisse. In her very matter-of-fact, brass tacks style, Séverine tells us that her family was actually quite sexist, and that the women either needed to die or become very old to even be considered important in the domaine! I love the honesty!
- We speak briefly about Michel Schlumberger in Sonoma, which a distant relative of Séverine’s established and then sold. In case you were wondering, there is no close tie between the wineries and wasn’t even before the sale to a holding company.
Next we address the estate:
- The Domaine is located on steep, dry, infertile hills with slopes of up to 50% gradient and at an altitude ranging from 820- 1280 ft/250 – 390 meters. It’s in the Haut-Rhin area of Alsace (the south), which is dry and considered top quality.
- We discuss the Grand Cru vineyards and what makes each so special, Séverine likens each to her children and makes the analogy crystal clear for us. We also talk about some of the unique features of the vineyards – the use of stone terraces to prevent erosion, and the “franc-comtois” plough horses that the Domaine has used continuously since 1810.
- Cool fact: this is one of the only types of horses that don’t have vertigo, and so they are perfect for steep vineyard work.
- Séverine talks about how much of the Grand Cru grapes go into the basic tier, “Les Princes Abbés” wines. The wines aren’t mature for 15 years and the basic wines are essential for introducing wine drinkers to the world of Alsace, so they get special care.
- We discuss the new classification system that is proposed (it would be like Burgundy’s system) and some of the qualms Séverine has with it. Then we discuss the standardization of a sweetness scale of the wines, tradition styles of Alsace, the use of very limited oak, and how climate change has affected the wines.
Finally, Séverine tells us her wish for the future: that Alsace wines become as popular on wine lists and in shops as Bordeaux or Rhône, and that wine lovers recognize that every white wine style made exists is in Alsace and is readily available.
I’m doing my part in drinking Alsace, I hope you are too!
My favorite quote from the show…
“For me the luxury of a wine producers is not to drive a Ferrari or to dress Chanel, it’s to be able to skip a wine if the vintage is not good enough, and that’s exactly what we’re doing…and the only reason we can do that is because we are family owned. If you belong to a big financial group, it’s over”
*All photos from https://www.domaines-schlumberger.com
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