Marcel Deiss must be one of the most original, fascinating, iconoclastic wineries we have ever been to.
And we think they are making some of the best wines in all of Alsace. Domaine Marcel Deiss (pronounced “dice”) was started in Bergheim, Alsace in northern France in 1947 after Marcel Deiss returned home from World War II. His family has been growing wine grapes in Alsace since 1744. Today the winery is in the hands of Marcel’s grandson Jean-Michel Deiss who is in turn assisted by his own son, Matthieu.
A pivotal moment in the history of this domaine is when Jean-Michel was bequeathed the Grand Cru vineyard Schoenenbourg by its former owner from his death bed.
Schoenenbourg is a very special vineyard that makes the longest ageing wine in all of Alsace, becoming ready at age 10 and capable of ageing until age 50.
But what makes this vineyard so extraordinary, and why it is pivotal to the development of Domaine Marcel Deiss, is how the vineyard is planted. The vineyard has all 13 of the noble grape varieties of Alsace but 20 or more other varieties as well. And the vines are all interspersed, as opposed to the more traditional method wherein there would be a Riesling block, and then maybe the next row over a Muscat block with a Gewurztraminer block elsewhere on the property. At Schoenenbourg it is not important to identify one variety from the next. They are all picked together and vinified together.
While this is highly unusual, and may seem novel to some, it is in fact, the traditional way of planting a vineyard and how it was regularly done over 100 years ago. This method of planting a vineyard is referred to as “complantation”.
Complantation is the most “natural” way to plant a vineyard. It avoids the stratification, of what is now traditional viticulture, into separate, identifiable blocks of a single variety. The interspersing of different vines creates true biodiversity and this in turn is less depleting of the soil’s nutrients and health than planting as a monoculture.
Schoenenbourg is a hillside vineyard, a requirement for complantation. The poor marl and clay soils at Schoenenbourg cause the vines to struggle, delaying ripening and causing all varieties to become fully ripe around the same time. This allows the entire vineyard to be picked at the same time. Bringing in the harvest at the same time allows vinification of all varieties to happen at once in a single blend. This single vinification of the entire vineyard becomes the most true expression of that vineyard and its terroir.
The resulting wine coming from Schoenenbourg so impressed Deiss that he planted over all of his Grand Cru hillside vineyards to complantation. His vineyards on the flat valley floor ripen different varieties at different times and consequently they are vinified by varietal.
The very natural viticulture of complantation helped steer Deiss towards the practice of biodynamics, a rather controversial form of organic farming that Deiss completely converted to by 1998.
Deiss makes a dizzying array of different wines each year. Looking at all the different bottles in the tasting room, we would guess 20 or more different wines are bottled each year. The wines are broken down into 4 primary classifications. Vins de Terroirs refers to the wines coming from his three Grand Cru vineyards, Mambourg, Altenbourg de Bergheim and Schoenenberg.
Deiss does not disclose the grape varieties in these bottles on their labels. At Marcel Deiss the different grapes in the blend and their relative percentages are not important. It is the terroir that is important. Hence, only the name of the vineyard appears on the label.
Following that is what Deiss calls Level 1st Cru Under Classification. Deiss believes these wines are the equivalent of a Premier Cru but Alsace has no Premier Cru designation. 11 wines fall into this category and are labeled by vineyard, not variety. Many of these wines fall under the categories of “Vendage Tardive” or “Selections de Grains Noble”, the former being late harvested and off-dry and the latter being botrytis-affected (like the wines made in Sauternes) and are various levels of sweet.
From the valley floor comes the Village designation, having eight different wines in the current vintage. Though labeled by village and not grape variety, these are from vineyards where complantation is not practiced.
Finally there are two Regional wines that express the entire Alsace region: Alsace Rouge made from red grapes from vineyards across Alsace and Alsace Complantation, made from the 13 noble white varieties grown at all of Marcel Deiss’ vineyards.
Across the board, Marcel Deiss makes truly outstanding wines from carefully tended biodynamic vineyards with meticulous handling in the winery. The house favours relatively late picking and the result is fully ripe wines with intense, pure flavours, full textures balanced by focused acidity and streaks of minerality.
When comparing these wines to other top crus from across the world, these wines sell for a song (nothing over $100 USD per bottle). These are highly unique wines of unparalleled quality but made in miniscule quantities. If you see one on a shelf, do not pass up the opportunity to buy it. You will not regret it!
2019 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten “Les Jardin des Origins”
This field blend from the stoney Engelgarten Vineyard near Bergheim shows classic Deiss texture that is mouth-filling but at the same time poised and finessed. We get flavours of melon, honey and lime zest. There is medium+ acid for focus and a long mineral streak on the finish.
2019 Marcel Deiss Gruenspiel Rouge
This red wine, made predominately from Pinot Noir co-fermented with smaller amounts of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc is a delicious wine and stretches the boundaries of what good Pinot can be. Medium red in the glass, the wine has terrific complexity, especially for such a young wine. Strawberry and rhubarb dominate the flavour profile and get support from secondary notes of moss and mineral notes. The body is medium– and the acidity is medium. But the panoply of flavours come through with great intensity. A wonderful example that demonstrates the uniqueness of Alsatian Pinot.
2017 Marcel Deiss Gruenspiel Blanc
A lighter offering from Deiss but showing the Domaine’s signature texture and intensity of flavour. We get notes of apple combined with minerals and hints of baking spices. Medium body and medium– acid, this has a pleasant mouthfeel and can do well on its own or pair well with shellfish of any form.
2019 Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru
The Mambourg blends all of the Pinots (Noir, Blanc, Gris, Meunier and Beurot) but avoids skin contact to create a white wine.
This is a truly gorgeous wine of sumptuous and hedonistic texture! Full body with medium acidity, this is a viscous wine with intense flavours of apple, honey and citrus. All the elements come together with such balance and harmony. Powerful indeed but not heavy nor cloying, just intense flavours and beautiful texture. Hard to find, but don’t pass it up if you get the opportunity to try it.
Route 68750 Bergheim
+33 3 89 73 63 37
March 15, 2023
“Complantation” was a new term for me! I have heard it referred to in California as “field blends.” It does seem smarter to plant this way. Different varieties are more or less susceptible to certain diseases, so integrated planting would help to keep these from spreading!
How amazing to be in Alsace and not reveal varieties! I have always found field blends to be so romantic!
March 15, 2023
Agreed, such an interesting lesson and there’s nothing like learning by seeing it firsthand (and of course tasting the delicious result)!
March 15, 2023
Last time I had a Deiss it was Mambourg and as you say, excellent. Had no idea he worked with primarily field blends. Thanks for opening up a completely new side of this producer for me!
March 15, 2023
Thankfully we brought a bottle back which we’ll save for you…love how they’ve taken a traditional method and made it ‘new’ again. The proof is in the final product!