Approximately 8km from the town of Colmar along the 170km Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route) lies the town of Niedermorschwihr, a charming village that is home to a small number of wineries surrounded by a stunning tapestry of steep vineyards. There, along the main cobblestone street is where we were introduced to Domaine Justin Boxler, a family winery making wine since 1672 that was the most surprising revelation during our first visit to Alsace.
The region of Alsace is located in eastern France close to the German border between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountain range. It is home to 3 Appellations d’Origine Protégées (AOPs) and no less than 51 Grand Crus.
AOP is the wine classification system formerly known as AOC (contrôlée) which is used to identify wines from a specific geographical region, whether a vineyard or region, that have met strict requirements in their production (everything from grape variety, to yield amount and harvesting, to ageing) to ensure quality and authenticity. A Grand Cru designation is given to those vineyards or wines that meet the very highest level of quality in France.
Domaine Justin Boxler works with approximately 30 acres of land divided in small plots among several AOPs including the Brand, Wineck-Schlossberg, and Sommerberg Grand Cru designated vineyards.
Charlotte and Florent Boxler represent the 11th generation of their family, and while a startling fact to most North Americans, it isn’t as uncommon as one would think in a place where according to Vins d’Alsace, the first traces of vineyards existed, ‘well before mankind appeared in this geographic region which was to form the Rhine Valley.’
The two siblings are widely considered to be among the region’s very best young winegrowers, combining traditional methods with an added modern interpretation. The family has spent more than a decade transitioning to biodynamic farming practices and the 2022 vintage represents their first harvest as fully certified organic.
Charlotte points to a map on the wall of their tasting room illustrating the location of their land holdings, proudly explaining that while their soils are largely made up of granite, limestone and clay, there are 13 different geological varieties that provide both complexity and personality to their wines.
Most of the vines they are working with today were planted in the 1960s and 1970s. Vines of this age produce much smaller yields that are typically more concentrated and flavourful due to their higher skin to juice ratio, while also providing more structure to a wine.
In the vineyard, they use the Guyot trellis system which trains the canes to follow an arc helping to promote more even ripening of the fruit. We first saw this system at Laurel Glen Vineyard in Sonoma where owner Bettina Sichel used it specifically for their old vines.
Justin Boxler produces wines using 7 different varieties, the majority of which is Riesling. The rationale, Charlotte tells us playfully with a smile, “[Riesling] is of course the most beautiful grape in Alsace.” In a few years their plan is to increase their production of Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris.
At the opposite side of the tasting room is an old wooden door and a short set of stone stairs that lead down to the cellar which is filled with several 100-year-old foudres (large wooden barrels).
As we were visiting not long after harvest, fermentation was in full swing. As Charlotte toured us through the cellar, she revealed that their philosophy in the winery is comprised of a low intervention, traditional approach where all their fruit is hand-harvested, there’s no fining involved, and all fermentation is instigated with natural, indigenous yeasts. Once fermentation is complete, the juice is aged in the traditional foudres until bottling.
Given the long history of winemaking in Alsace and the traditional methods handed down over multiple generations, you probably haven’t read anything too surprising in our profile of Justin Boxler. The revelation for us lay in the fact that we were tasting excellent Grand Cru wines that were beyond a bargain; they were bordering on grand (cru) theft.
But mark our words, the current prices likely won’t last long as Charlotte and Florent are very quickly, and quite deservedly, being discovered by wine critics and distributors alike. If you are a fan of Riesling and you come across one of their wines at the bottle shop, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better return on investment.
2021 Justin Boxler Riesling
This Riesling shows the classic Alsatian terroir, with medium body, medium+ acidity, and a chalky mineral note that adds to the green apple and citrus flavours of this wine. This wine is very refreshing and offers an attractive hint of spice on the finish.
Justin Boxler Riesling Lieu-dit Pfoeller
This wine comes from two plots within the lieu-dit, Erdhauser and Redhauser. Sections of the vineyards were planted as far back as 1972. The wines is aged on its lees for a year in 100 year old oak barrels. The result is an intensely flavoured, complex Riesling of considerable depth and character. The acid is medium to high but it is well balanced by the wine’s texture and body. Here the flavour profile tends more towards ripe fruit and lemon confit.
2018 Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg
Like the Pfoeller, this wine also spends a year on its lees in 100 year old oak barrels. The vineyard is on a steep 45 degree angle facing south by southeast and overlooking the town of Niedermorschwihr. The afternoon sun gives Sommerberg a ripe character with notes of grapefruit, mango, lemon zest along with hints of spice. Here the intensity is dialed up; exactly what you would expect form a Grand Cru vineyard.
15 – 16 rue des Trois-Épis 68230
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-12pm/2pm-6pm
T: +33 3 89 27 11 07