Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Grande Dame of Alsatian Wine, Colette Faller of Domaine Weinbach, Passed Away at Age 87, France

Picture: Collette Faller and Christian G.E. Schiller at Domaine Weinbach in December 2010

Colette Faller of Domaine Weinbach passed away at age 87 in February 2015. This comes less than a year after in May 2014, her daughter Laurence died from a tragic heart attack.

Colette Faller took over the domaine in 1979 after the death of her husband Théo. For the last 2 decades, she worked closely with her daughters Laurence and Catherine Faller, in charge respectively of winemaking and sales.

Catherine Faller, married to a dentist, will now run Domaine Weinbach with her sons Théo and Eddy. Ghislain Berthiot, who worked with Laurence for many years, will continue to be in charge of winemaking.

I visited Domaine Weinbach a few years ago with my wife Annette Schiller. We spent a couple of hours with Collete Faller tasting wines with her in the dining room of her charming, antiques-filled country home, where family mementos and photographs of her late husband stood on an old china cabinet. You could feel through the pictures and the furniture the history of the place. She was a fascinating woman. She also showed us around the winery. Catharine dropped by several times.

Initially, Collete Faller was wearing regular clothes, but when I talked about taking pictures, she disappeared and came back dressed stylishly.

Robert M. Parker Jr. wrote that Colette Faller, "a robust, vivacious woman of extraordinary charm and vision, has turned out a dazzling succession of profound Rieslings, Gewurtztraminers, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blancs and dry Muscats from her surrounding vineyards."

Much of the credit of course has to go to her daughters Catharine and Laurence Faller. The latter studied chemical engineering, then took enology courses in Toulouse and Beaune. She even did a stint in California in 1989. In 1993, she returned to Domaine Weinbach and began assuming some of the winemaking duties. By 1996, she was making many of the winemaking decisions, and in 1998 she was given free rein as winemaker.

Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach is located just outside the castle-crowned town of Kaysersberg, the birthplace of 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer.

Kaysersberg with its ancient buildings, Germanic half-timbered gingerbread houses and cobblestoned streets, is a magical place surrounded by some of Alsace's finest vineyards. Among them are Weinbach's Monopole Vineyard Clos des Capucins and the Grand Crus Schlossberg and Furstenstum, which have major holdings owned or controlled by the Fallers.

Pictures: Domaine Weinbach

The Domaine Weinbach is a former monastery built in 1612 by capucines monks, who made wine already on the Clos. During the French Revolution, the monastery was seized and sold as a national property. In 1898, it was acquired by the Faller brothers. The Faller brothers left it to their son and nephew Théo. He, a prominent figure in Alsace winegrowing, was devoted to Domaine Weinbach all his life and developed, expanded and enhanced it. Since his death in 1979, his wife Colette Faller and their two daughters Catherine and Laurence have carried on Théo's passion for the great wines of Alsace and his unrelenting commitment to delivering excellence.

Domaine Weinbach omprises 27 hectares. Although all the bottles of Domaine Weinbach bear the name of the Clos des Capucins, only a small number originate from the Clos itself. The rest come from the Faller's other holdings, including in their Grand Cru sites. Domaine Weinbach wines also come from vineyards they have leased and cultivate themselves.

Pictures: Collette Faller and Christian G.E. Schiller at Domaine Weinbach in December 2010

Schlossberg is probably the most significant site, being the first vineyard in Alsace to have Grand Cru status approved in 1975. Furstentum is a south-southeast facing Grand Cru site, nestled in the Kaysersberg Valley to the northeast of Schlossberg. The vines in Grand Cru Mambourg, like Furstentum, are a recent purchase for the Faller Family. The nearby Altenbourg lieu-dit provides Pinot Gris as well as Gewurztraminer.

Winemaking Philosophy

Laurence Faller believed in minimal intervention in the winemaking process. The grapes are harvested by hand and whole-cluster pressed in horizontal pneumatic presses. The wines are fermented under the action of the indigenous yeast and aged in the same old upright oval casks that range in size from 3,000- to 6,000-liter capacity, then usually bottled after about seven months. The wines usually do not undergo malolactic fermentation.

Picture: In the Cellar of Domaine Weinberg with Colette Faller

The Domaine Weinbach Wine Portfolio


The Riesling range starts with the Riesling Cuvée Théo, sourced from the Clos des Capucins, where Theo rests. The Riesling (and the Gewurtztraminer) that grow there bear his name.

The Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg originates from the upper slopes of the Grand Cru Schlossberg vineyard. There are three further special cuvées from the Grand Cru Schlossberg: (1) Riesling Cuvée Ste Catherine, from the lower slopes of Schlossberg; the grapes are picked late (some time around the 25th of November, day of Sainte Catherine) so that they can enjoy the late autumn sun, (2) Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine which comes from old vines on the mid-slope in Schlossberg, and (3) Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine L’Inedit. "L'Inédit means the original one and is from the most beautiful plots. It is only produced when Riesling reaches an exceptional maturity” told us Colette Faller.

The Domaine Weinbachs Riesling wines have a fine and delicate fruitiness; they are racy, nervy, dry but at the same time they are mature and long on the palate. “Riesling holds a special place in our vineyards and in our hearts” said Colette Faller.

Tokay Pinot Gris

The Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Ste Catherine is sourced from old vines in the Clos des Capucins.

The other Pinot Gris cuvées come from lieu-dit Altenbourg. The Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvée Laurence is sourced from vines in the lower part of the Altenbourg vineyard, whereas the Tokay Pinot Gris Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence comes from the main part of the Altenbourg plot.


As the Riesling, the Gewurztraminer Cuvée Théo originates from the Clos des Capucins. The remaining Gewuerztraminer cuvées are predominantly from Altenbourg again. The Gewurztraminer Cuvée Laurence comes from the foot of the lieu-dit, and the Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence comes from the main part of the Altenbourg plot.

In addition, there is also the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Cuvée Laurence which comes from Grand Cru Furstentum.

Colette Faller said “with wonderful aromas of rose, gilly-flower, jasmine, spices, crystallized citrus fruit… with velvety bodies, they are sumptuous as an aperitif, with exotic food, smoked salmon or even with cheese, especially with French cheeses such as Munster or Roquefort.”

Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Noir

There is a Sylvaner Réserve from the Clos des Capucins. “The Sylvaner is good with cooked pork meats, oysters, fish. It is also a thirst-quenching wine“ said Colette Faller.

The Pinot Réserve is a blend of fruit from the Clos des Capucins and from vines at the foot of the Altenbourg lieu-dit.

The Muscat Réserve is a blend from the Clos des Capucins and the marly limestone soil at the foot of the Altembourg. “Dry, with an incomparable fruitiness, it really gives the impression of biting a raisin. It can be a wonderful aperitif and goes really well with asparagus and lightly spiced dishes” said Colette Faller.

The Pinot Noir Réserve is sourced from the Clos des Capucins and Schlossberg.

Vendanges Tardives, Sélection de Grains Nobles and Quintessences de Grains Nobles

There are also Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles cuvees. However, many regard the greatest wines to be the Quintessences de Grains Nobles. “They are exceptional wines, remarkable because of their great aromatical complexity, of their rare concentration and their perfect balance” said Colette Faller.

The Quintessences de Grains Nobles are extremely rare nectars, produced in tiny quantities in only a few vintages. The word Quintessence was invented in Domaine Weinbach; it was used the first time to describe a sumptuous cuvée of the 1983 vintage.

Catherine Faller

The fate of Domaine Weinbach is now in the hands of Catherine Faller and her two sons. All the best Catharine.

Picture: Catherine Faller with Christian G.E.Schiller at L'Auberge Chez Francois in Falls Chruch, Virginia, USA.

schiller-Wine: Related Postings

Visiting Colette Faller at Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg in Alsace

The World Class Wines of Alsace

1. International Riesling Symposium, Rheingau, Germany

In the world class white wine region Alsace

Domaine Weinbach Wines and Alsatian Food with Winemaker Catherine Faller, Alsace, and Chef Jacques E. Haeringer, Virginia 

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