An anonymous brick warehouse somewhere on the outer reaches of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York might seem an unlikely place to discover distinctive Alsace Pinot Noir wines. But when Isabelle Legeron, M.W.’s “2017 RAW WINE” Fair took place in the warehouse, talented Alsace grower Christian Binner’s reds provided a highlight as one hundred fifty producers from around the world poured samples of wines “grown naturally, made naturally.”
At the Fair, natural light from large transom windows beams down from the airy, high ceiling as growers welcomed a packed house of sommeliers, journalists, and enthusiastic consumers. Millennial hipsters make up most of the crowd, but a fair number of grayer heads—and beards—intersperse. Throughout the day a constant gaggle assembles in front of the Christian Binner’s table.
In constant motion, the wiry Binner explains his wines with engaging, upbeat energy while switching effortlessly between English, French, and German. He makes several distinctive and highly acclaimed Alsace Pinot Noirs from varying soils near his family’s estate in Ammerschwihr, just north of Colmar. He credits his father, Joseph, for laying the foundations for success.
“I have been in the vines since a child, and l learned a lot from my father,” says Binner who also studied at winegrowing schools in Alsace and Burgundy. “My father already followed the ways of organic vines, handpicking, and fermenting the grapes with indigenous yeasts. But prior to bottling he was filtering and adding small amounts of sulfur to the wines.”
A 1998 visit from France’s natural wine pioneer, Marcel Lapierre, inspired a change towards producing completely “natural” wines.
“The results were much more intriguing for both white and red wines,” Binner notes. Today he makes wine by “adding nothing and taking nothing away” and then bottles with little or no sulfites added.
For his Alsace Pinot Noirs, Binner relies on low grape yields to achieve the ripe red fruit and depth he prefers. Binner also follows a biodynamic approach that gives the vines natural composts and “teas” rather than synthetic chemical applications.
“For me, wine is pleasure, and I don’t want to drink chemicals. Traditional viticulture fights Nature with pesticides and fertilizers to push grape yields higher, but it kills life in the soils. And that’s a pity, ” Binner notes. “My work is to assist and help Nature, not to dominate it. Biodynamics strengthens the vines so when the climate conditions become complicated the grapes are still very nice.”
After manually harvesting the Pinot Noir grapes, he prefers fermentation of whole grape clusters instead of removing the stems and crushing the fruit.
“When you destem and crush first, you ferment a big marmalade which gives more contact with skins and extracts harsh tannins,’ he says. “With whole clusters you have fruitier wines and more elegant tannins.”
In the same vein, during fermentation he performs pigéage à pied—using feet, instead of mechanical methods, to break up and submerge the mass of grapes that rises to the top of the tank. This allows extraction of red color but again without imparting harsh tannins.
“With your feet, you can feel the temperatures better inside the fermentation, and then you can be more gentle and precise,” Binner says.
Once fermentation ends, he does a partial, gentle pressing, again to achieve softer, elegant wines with freshness and energy rather than heaviness.
In terms of specific vineyards, Binner works with both fully mature Pinot Noir vines and younger vines. Fifty years ago, his father, Joseph, planted Pinot Noir on the lower slope of the Grand Cru Kaefferkopf vineyard in a mix of chalky limestone and granite soils. In 2002, Christian planted Pinot Noir vines on the Hinterberg vineyard’s granite soils.
The 2015 Domaine Christian Binner, Alsace Pinot Noir is a sheer pleasure with red raspberry aromas and flavors, ample concentration and superb freshness through a mouthwatering, fresh finish. Like all of Binner’s reds, there’s not a hint of intrusive oak to mask the wine’s pure, transparent fruitiness. A wine with brilliant, delicious personality!
At the 2017 RAW WINE Fair, Binner poured the equally splendid 2016 Domaine Christian Binner, Alsace Pinot Noir.
He also offered the 2015 Le Pinot Noir d’Hubert et Christian, Alsace. This wine comes from collaboration of Christian with a neighboring grower who also works organically and biodynamically. It has juicy red fruit and a soft yet fresh finish. It delivers great value and is available in America from Jenny & François Selections under the “Les Vins Pirouettes by Binner and Associates” label.