Today we welcome a rendezvous with Nicolas Laugner, 11th generation Alsatian winemaker at Domaine Allimant-Laugner in Orschwiller.
I have a very active imagination. There isn’t much that I can’t picture or create in my mind’s eye; but there is something about Nicolas that I struggle with. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of being an 11th generation winemaker. 11 generations! That blows my mind in the same way that thinking about space or infinity does: I can’t grasp the level of ancestral experience that comprises the legacy he leads.
What’s even more interesting is that his approach is fresh and inspired. On receiving advice he shared,
“Every piece of information was precious and helpful, but what I learned is that only our own choices will lead us to the wine we want to make. “
Perhaps this is what such deep heritage imparts: an openness for the wine to constantly express its best, under the indefatigable influence of change as it evolves over 11th generations.
So, what happens in the domaine and vineyards over 11 generations? Some incredibly compelling efforts to create exacting and beautiful wines. Domaine Allimant-Laugner is located in northeastern France in the Alsace region. The domaine cultivates 12 hectares of vineyards comprised on 30 distinct parcels. Their vines are situated around the village of Orschwiller which can be found between the villages of Saint Hippolyte to the south and Châtenois to the north. The Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle overlooks the sustainably-leaning domaine.
According to Wines of Alsace, who featured Domaine Allimant-Laugner as a winery of the week last year, “Allimant-Laugner produces a reserve range from Alsace’s seven major grape varieties, including Grand Cru wines from the Praelatenberg vineyard and late-harvest Vendanges Tardives and Sélection des Grains Nobles sweet wines. But the winery is most well-known for its two traditional method Crémants d’Alsace— a Brut made from a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling and a 100% Pinot Noir Rosé.” (More on that crémant rosé later.)
Their vineyards include The Grand Cru PRAELATENBERG, a historical and exceptional plot that meets the criteria to be considered a Grand Cru. “Mentioned in a written way for the first time in 823, the Grand Cru was owned by the monks of Ebersmunster.” Their oldest oak barrel was cooper-built in their cave 100 years ago and Domaine Allimant-Lauger is one of the original houses present when the Alsace AOP was established in 1962. What does this heritage mean to Nicolas? He was kind enough to answer a few questions and introduce us this his home, his wine and his history.
How old were you when you tasted a wine that changed everything?
I grew up at the winery, so I have always seen my parents working there and people tasting the wines. I remember coming back from school with friends when I was 6, going to the cellar and making them taste directly from the tanks during fermentation. I have always like sharing our products, and when I was 14 or 15 and really started to enjoy tasting wines, I knew that I wanted to continue and make my own cuvées.
The first wine I really loved was our cuvée of Pinot Gris called “Au Puits des Moines,” a richer wine harvested a few weeks after our traditional Pinot Gris. The berries are more concentrated and offer crystallized fruit aromas that marry very well with foie gras.
I discovered the different steps of winemaking just by seeing and being with my father. I wanted my studies to bring something positive to our domaine. I went to the business school at the University of Marseille, studied how to manage small family businesses and then specialized in wine and Champagne management in Reims Business School. My different experiences abroad allowed me to come back on the domaine and develop it for international markets.
Which one of your wines was the most difficult to craft and what did you learn from the experience?
I think the most interesting and challenging wine to craft was the Riesling 2015. Last year was only my third vintage in the cellar by myself, and the style was different than the two previous vintages. The Riesling grapes were beautiful and healthy, but their thin skins started to crack after rain. We had to be very reactive and managed to harvest them the following day at their optimum aromatic state.
All of our cuvées ferment with natural yeasts, and we control the fermentation temperatures thanks to stainless steel tanks. Our challenge here was to complete the fermentation in six weeks before winter arrived; otherwise, the cold weather would send all of the fermentations to sleep until the following spring. The daily follow up and care finally offered us a perfectly aromatic and stabilized wine in November.
I received a lot of advice about the harvesting dates and fermentation. Every piece of information was precious and helpful, but what I learned is that only our own choices will lead us to the wine we want to make.
What are you most concerned about in your area? Water scarcity, soil erosion, pests…etc…
I am a young winemaker taking over my family’s domaine. Since I returned to the winery from my studies, we have only had early vintages, most of them very sunny. So, I am quite concerned about the weather forecasts and tendencies in the future. We try to evaluate how our vineyards could evolve and how we can keep our light and dry style for tomorrow’s wines. It is important to have this in mind when we plant a new plot because the vineyard will be there for the next fifty years.
Though it can feel insignificant at times, I am also trying to push my “grain of sand” as far as possible by reducing our impact on nature and the land and continuing to work in sustainable ways.
What are your challenges making the new vintage?
As written previously, 2015 has been very warm and our main challenge has been to keep freshness and balance in our wines. The degrees increased quickly in the vineyard, and we had to really manage and follow the evolution to harvest at optimum ripeness. The incredible quality and health of these grapes offered us interesting fermentations, completely made with natural yeasts.
We obtained the balance we wanted for the different wines, maintaining both aromatics and pleasant but essential acidity. With this, we met the challenge of the vintage, keeping the style of wine for which our domaine is known across almost the entire range.
Since we also wanted to highlight this wonderful vintage, we decided to offer a completely new Riesling Grand Cru Praelatenberg, richer and more concentrated than the previous vintages. The wine’s notes of white flowers and minerality are expressed very well with a long and persistent finish. This cuvée was one of personal pleasure, and I am already excited to present it. It says, “This was 2015!”
Which vintage (yours or another vintner’s) will you drink over dinner?
Our Grand Cru Praelatenberg 2007 is showing its full potential right now, and it is a great pleasure to taste it with friends who come to the winery. The minerality of the granite and gneiss parcel is expressed perfectly through Riesling and is more present as the wine ages. The characteristics of this cuvée are similar to our Grand Cru Praelatenberg 2014, and wine should age in the same manner.
Besides this particular wine, I get a lot of pleasure opening a bottle of 2010. All our wines from this vintage have wonderful acidity and balance. They are perfect gastronomy wines and will keep their freshness for several years.
When you aren’t drinking your own bottles, what do you drink as your go-to, everyday drinking wine?
When I am not drinking Alsace, I go to reds. My favorite region is the Rhône Valley, in particular some appellations like Cornac and Lirac, that produce big fruity wines with great complexity. I also find this pleasure with northern Italian wines, from Piedmont in particular. These wines make me hungry!
Since I also like visiting these regions and their gastronomy, there is probably a link ….
Is there someone that works on your estate that you’d like to to highlight, thank, gush about?
It is easy to present the whole staff of our domaine, because it is so small: there are my parents and my grandmother. My grandmother is the one I want to highlight here. She was born at the domaine and has always been here, for 80 years now. Her generation has seen so many changes; she grew up in occupied Alsace with a father sent to a camp during WWII, started bottling the first vintage in 1947 (only sold in casks before that) and then saw the evolution of all the vineyards: the creation of the Grand Cru appellations, late harvest wines then Crémant d’Alsace.
She is still very active at the domaine—she takes part in every day of the harvest and bottle labeling, and no one can take her post.
She sometimes comes with her map and asks, “So, in which country are we going to send this order?” So many changes seen in 80 years.
Do you have a favorite local chef that might recommend a recipe or pairing for your wine for this post or another project?
I want to use this recipe with our Gewurztraminer. I really enjoy the marriage of the coco and ginger in the dish, with the spices and tropical fruits aromas we get from the Gewurztraminer.
A Paring Recipe: Gewurztraminer with Sautéed Shrimp, Noodles and Spicy Coconut-Lemongrass Broth
Nicolas shares, “Our wine is rich, as is all Alsatian Gewurztraminer, but has a nice acidity from the granite soil. It makes a very interesting food pairing wine.” He offers this lovely recipe as a partner for his Gewurztraminer, translated by Jill.
Sautéed prawns, Chinese noodles with vegetables in a spicy coconut lemongrass broth (Prepared with a wok), serves four.
1 dried chili
1 stalk lemongrass
2 cloves garlic
1 combawa (or lime) in zest
1 small piece of ginger
1 chicken bouillon cube
In the Wok:
50 g peas
1 small diced zucchini
½ red pepper into small dice
200g fresh shi také mushrooms
sesame oil (or sunflower)
12 or 16 Prawns (depending on the size of your appetite)
Create the broth by simmering all ingredients in 2l of water
Steep for 1 hour before filtering with a colander.
Sauté all ingredients in the wok and add the noodles just blanched in boiling water
Arrange the noodles and vegetables in the center of the soup plate
Add coconut cream to the broth and emulsify in a blender or blender
Arrange the noodles
Surround with the broth
The Wines of Alsace
During a recent presentation by The Wines of Alsace, at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, I had the opportunity to enjoy Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV, made from 100% Pinot Noir. According to the domaine, “This Crémant is aged 11 months before disgorgement and is meant to be consumed while fresh and young. In fact, the grapes are the first to be manually harvested because we want to keep the youthfulness and coolness through citrus fruits flavors. And when you open it, you will be greeted by fresh aromas of strawberries and wonderful minerality. This is easy to drink with the light, creamy bubbles and a crisp, flowery tang.”
What brings about this profile in the wine? Alsace is influenced by the Vosges Mountains and is climatically one the driest regions in France. According to May Matta Aliah, New York based wine educator and President of In the Grape, organic and sustainable growing comes naturally to the region because of this dryness. She says that in Alsace,
“The goal is not to fight nature. Not to fight enemies of the vine.”
The vineyards are located between 200-400 meters along the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and there they take advantage of south and southeastern exposure in their semi-continental climate. There are 13 distinct terroirs providing the foundations for seven major grapes. Soils found here include granite, limestone, gneiss (mentioned above) schist, sandstone and others.
A great deal, of course, is owed to nature in Alsace. But it would be an error to overlook the graceful contribution of the winemakers such as the Allimant-Laugner family, not simply for their skills but for their tenancy toward hospitality and good taste. Alsace was the first region in France to embrace wine tourism, evident in the thriving Wine Route which runs through hills, villages and vineyards.
I am truly grateful to Nicolas Laugner for providing such revealing information and for the recipe. Domaine Allimant-Laugner accepts visitors year round and their wines are made available in the United States from Vigneron Imports.
Hubert et Nicolas LAUGNER
Ouverture du Domaine: Tous les jours de 8h. à 12h. et de 13h.30 à 19h.
Samedi de 8h à 12h et de 13h30 à 18h.
Dimanche matin sur rendez-vous de 10h à 12h.
For more on Alsace please visit:
Stay tuned to L’occasion for more Winemaker Rendezvous featuring winemakers from around the world!