The Domaine Barmes-Buecher is a winery which is very active at every level in its implementation of biodynamics, first in the vineyard in a very extensive way, but also in many apparently-not-related-with-wine details (at least in the Cartesian sense of these words), like the architecture of the cellar room and the energy within the different materials involved. Something changed in Barmès-Buecher wines along with the new practice, the result being wines with complexity and purity, as if this organic farming with a plus resonates somehow in the wines and makes them alive.
François's father was farming conventionally, and he himself worked this way when he followed suit in 1985, until he began to question this whole farming practice in the years 1991 and 1992. At this time, he realized that all the estates of the region were producing similar, square wines. Their own wines at Barmès-Buecher were average, lacking soul and excitement. That was the beginning of a soul-searching that led him to biodynamy and changed their wines completely.
Both Geneviève's and François's fathers were farmers first, they of course grew vineyards and made wine, but they also grew other crops to make a living, raised cows ect... François's father began to bottle his wines in 1972 and the wine proportion in the farm kept growing ever since. François Barmès came working in the farm in 1985 and he turned the farm into a winery-only activity, selling direct rather than selling to the Négoce like their parents did. He and his wife Geneviève also merged their respective estates, selling their wines now on under a single estate name : Barmès-Buecher. We were young, we were in love, he says, and only after that, they faced the unchartered territory of selling all their wines estate-bottled, something which was new as until then the Négoce bought everything in bulk and they had not to worry about the sales. This was not easy to get a customer base overnight.
This impressive, high-ceiling cask room was built in 2001, this is one of the grand projects of François Barmès, one which has to do with the mysterious core values of biodynamy dealing with architecture and energy flow, something hardly understandable for people unaware of Rudolf Steiner's thinking on the way the world functions. This multi-vaulted ceiling design was chosen for the cask room because shapes, volumes and architecture are not neutral when making wine (they're not neutral either for our everyday life in our homes by the way). This chapel as he calls it was built according to a golden number taking into account the height and the length of the room. The ceiling is made from iron-less cellular concrete. Iron-less because iron would harm the free flow of energy. Speaking of the lights and lamps in the ceiling which could interfere with this energy flow, they have been designed with counter energy balance (as I understood) so that they didn't hamper the whole energy process. The architect he worked with is an expert in these question and knows how to use the different materials to optimize the energy of the things, wines or people living in the designed premises. Before pouring this concrete, a wood frame was built (which was taken off later), made exclusively with wood taken from the Vosges mountains, beech, wild cherry, hazel and oak, no fir, because it had to be noble wood. The water used to make the concrete was also dynamized (he went to the cement facility to check that they didn't use ordinary tap water). The wood structure stayed 6 months with the concrete poured over it before being removed.
François Barmès says that initially, he wanted to become engineer in mettallurgy, which is a world apart from the wine sphere. Following this wine destiny, he eventually made his way self-taught and had the chance to mostly materialize the things he wanted to do, the way he wanted them to be, and this cask room, although it was a costly investment, was something he considers very important for his wine work.
Coming back to this amazing work and personnal investment in this multi-vaulted cellar room, he says that his goal here was to keep in line with the energy of the vineyard, to have a facility where the wine could get along and continue on the same line. 98% of the work is in the vineyard, he says, once the wine gets into these vats (we moved to the vat room with large foudres and other vats), he doesn't feel any need to intervene because anything he could decide to do would be opposed to the wine on the energy side. If he does some racking of the must, or a racking, or a fining or whatever, it will be a stress for the wine, it will go against the harmony and the balance, against the energy side of the wine, because it cuts the thread that the wine received from the vine.
When we walked into the long press room with a walking corridor around the two lined presses, I couldn't but be impressed by the cleanliness and hygiene that perspired from this room. The tiled ground and walls, the two 50-hectoliter Pera presses, everything was spotless and there was no dark place where dust or impurities could be left alone. François Barmès says that this room is very important, after the vineyard which comes first. He looks for an absolute hygiene in the chai, because he saw several instances where colleagues who were into natural wines worked perfectly their vineyard but didn't pay attention to the hygiene of their chai. He says that this leads to defaults in the wines and he doesn't want that for his own wines. He is in this regard very demanding on the cleanliness side, and this, without using any chemical products to clean the machines and the walls : only "huile de coude" as we say in French [sweat and muscle], water and steam. The Pera presses are very high above the ground so that he can access easily to their underneath, clean the area, or move the parts (like on picture on left). I also notice that this tiled room is opened on the top, so that the air circulates freely, we climb a few steps and reach a huge barn-like room with a non-insulated roof with nice big beams. That's where the harvest comes in, is sorted before going down to the press. See the vibrating sorting table and the elevator on the picture on the right. This opening over the tiled press room is also good I guess to avoid molds or harmful micro-organisms to develop on its walls or on the presses.
The grapes are hand picked and carefully chosen on the spot, then again sorted on a 4-meter vibrating sorting table under this naturally-ventilated roof. Each truck brings in between 1500 to 2000 kg of grapes at a time, they are poured intto the press which he sets at 50 millibar and he waits for the next truckload to arrive. When it arrives, he puts the load in the same press and so on until the press is full. Then he puts the whole load to press for 12 hours, the first 6 hours betwween 0 and 200 milibars, no more, and from the beginning of the second 6 hours, he turns gradually to a 900-millibars pressure to get some of the juice if the inside of the grape and find some tannicity (he makes the sign "quotes") in the wine which will add some light astringency and structure deep in the wine. But he never gets over 900 milibars because he would get undesirable things. He adds that between press batches, everything in the room including the presses is thoroughly cleaned, he checks that it's always done.
After we walk up to the high-roof barn over the presses, he says that quickly the atmosphere is charged with the positive energy at the harvest, and that the free circulation of air helps for the harmony. The wood used for the beams is free of chemical treatments or coating, here again, he chose carefully the architectural parts of the building. All the juices that come at the winery get 1mg of SO2 per liter, all the élevage of the wine being made without sulphur addings. His wines stay 11 months minimum in élevage and this will be in the oxydoreduction milieu of the lees which will prevent the oxydation. If he isn't careful, he risks VA, oxydation or other aromatic deviations. At the end, he will make a plaque filtration for the white 10 mg SO2 for dry wines and for the sweet 20 mg. The élevage takes place in foudres, demi-muids and casks, plus in stainless-steel vats for the Gewürztraminer and the Muscat. He had more foudres in the 1990s' but most were not in good shape and he had to get rid from several of them. He invested in demi-muids temporarily he thought but discovered that actually this type of container is a good volume for the Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Gris. A foudre, he says, is good to bring oxygen on the wine, but a demi-muid will sort of structure the minerality of the wine. The red ages in casks. Speaking of the reds, they make some 10 % of the volume at Barmès-Buecher.
With the exception of the wines that go in the demi-muids or the casks, and of the Gewürztraminer and the Muscat, the rest of the wine go in the three large foudres for some time of their élevage. His wines ferment with only their indigenous yeats and in winter the whole process slows and gets almost still for a few monthqs until spring when it starts anew. Typically, a wine can still have 7 grams of residual sugar before it ferments again at the end of winter. If the wine was in a stainless-steel vat, he puts it in a foudre and vice versa. He could purchase more foudres (they're made at Baumert in Alsace) but this is some investment and there's a balance in the way he raises the wines now.
When his father saw how he was working at the beginning of his viticulture turnabout, he doubted that he would make any money, being from a generation (he is 41 years older than François) when you had to be productive and resort to chemicals and additives to succeed. This paternal opposition was a hard part of his early years as vigneron to overcome, but now at last he could show his father that if non-conventional, his ways worked.
For the anecdote, the white cross on the other side of the road (2nd picture above) is a family calvary cross where you can read on a stone in German something like "if you say 10 Our-Father prayers and 2 Hail Mary, you will live one day more in your life"...
Before climbing the slope, we look at from afar at another of Barmès-Buecher vineyards, the Clos Sand that we can guess in the distance (picture on right) a differently oriented slope. It's really a clos, with a surface of 1,3 hectare of which 48 ares are planted.
Speaking of his work with biodynamy and diversity, there is another thing that François Barmès would like to do in the future, it is to restart a farm activity so as the winery is integrated into a diverse farm rooted in the real world. On the other side of the street on his wife's family farm, there are still all the buildings and facilities to have farm animals, cows and horses and he may consider doing something in that direction. The great plus is that their both farms/facilities lie just at the limit of the village, at a stone throw of the first vineyards and slopes...
Wettolsheim itself is very close to Colmar, the historic major town of this wine region. The village of Wettolsheim was in the past the farm appendice of Colmar, the place where all the vegetables consumed in town were grown, and there was a quasi-vassal relationship between the town people and the farmers of this village.
We reach the blue van above. Inside, there is a plastic container full of ash-color water where vines waiting to be planted are still bathing. François Barmès takes out a bundles and explains that the water is a pure well water to which he gave informations or vibrations through cow-horn manure and bentonite, a mix called pralinage. The vines get the verticality notion from this dynamized water and they will root deeper instead of looking for water and nutients at the surface. The vines stay from 1 hour to 3 hours in this tank.
At Barmès-Buecher, even the compost and the manure is carefully prepared and dynamized through biodynamic preparations. See this video about the manure preparation. It takes place high in the Vosges mountains. Here is another video about the spring work in the vineyard at Barmès-Buecher [I wasn't tipped about them by François or Geneviève but found them on the Internet].
I was particularly impressed by the two Pinots Noirs, very nice wines that prove once more that Alsace is ALSO a region with outstanding reds when the pre-conditions are met.
__ Barmès-Buecher Pinot Blanc Rosenberg. Amber poured this wine for me when I arrived at the winery. Mouth with notes of ripe grapes. Rich and round wine. Minerality and stone feel. On a terroir oriented north/north-east with clay and marl soil. Slow maturation because of the orientation. The biodynamie helped them get more acidity, Geneviève told me later. Also they do the topping and trimming later, which helps. 10 €.
__ Barmès-buecher Pinot Noir Reserve 2008. Nice evolved color. Light turbidity (unfiltered). Chewy mouth, very nice wine. Pinot Noir from Alace, again, in an unsung hero...élevage for one year + in 2/3-wines-old casks. Costs 15 € public price at the winery.
__ Barmès-Buecher Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 2007. On Hengst, but this terroir is not officially recognized for Pinot Noir. It's in the travails at the INAO to get it the Hengst seal. But anyway, the customers know where it comes from and before Geneviève (she's the one who poured these other wines for me) told me, I felt that this wine was just great. Lots of complexity, leather notes, also cooked cherry, spices. Light turbidity too. Yields between 19 ho/ha and 24 ho/ha. Small-size grapes on very old root stock. The structure of this Pinot Noir is more square and serious compared with the previous one. 23,5 €.
__ Barmès-Buecher Riesling Clos Sand 2008. The small vineyard on a picture above. Soil with granite/mica. Neat nose, minerality, feels like wet rock. Small clusters, picked late. 56 ares surface. A neat, tranchant wine (imagine the sharpness of a large knife). The minerality in the mouth is striking and beautiful. Green reflections in the glass. 18 €.
_ Barmès-Buecher Hengst Alsace Grand Cru Riesling 2008. Older vines, about 30 years. Green reflections too. Nice acidity, also neat wine with minerality.
__ Barmès-Buecher Gewürztraminer Wintzenheim Cuvée Maxime 2006. This was a difficult year. Nose hinting on dry raisins. Superb wine. In the mouth, a light bitterness underlines beautifully the wine. Very nice. 60 grams of residual sugar, you must learn it because it's not really felt. After the years, Geneviève says, this wine found its place by itself. Nice gold color with green reflections. 13°.
Barmès-Buecher wines are exported at about 50%. US : Sussex Wine & Spirits, Petit Pois Corp, Moore Brothers, Encore Wine Imports. Belgium, UK, Holland (Karakter Wijnimport), Sweden (Wine Trade), Canada (SAQ, LCBO, Living wine).