Vines’ Happy Place
Location: Ammerschwihr, Alsace, France
Owner & winemaker: Christian Binner
Vineyard area: 8 hectares, estate-owned + 7ha in long-term rental from 2 local biodynamic growers
Vineyard management: certified organic (AB-Ecocert) or in conversion, biodynamic techniques
Soils: highly diverse depending on the vineyard – granite, pebbles, sand, mica-schist, loess, limestone…
Main varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Pinot Noir
Annual production (approx.): 60,000 bottles
Winemaking: manual harvest, spontaneous fermentation only, aging in old foudres or tanks in Christian’s anthroposophic cellar. No fining, no filtration, no sulfur added
- The Binners have been making wine in Ammerschwihr since 1770; Christian took over the domaine in 1999 and doubled down on the traditional farming methods that were upheld by his father and grandfather
- Christian still farms the vines planted by his grandfather in 1930; the average age of their vineyards is 30+ years
- The wines are made and age in a special bioclimatic cellar constructed in the 2010s according to anthroposophical principles, using only local materials and natural shapes
- Using it all: Christian’s girlfriend Michele makes oil and cosmetics from the grape seeds left over after pressing
- Besides making his own delicious wines, Christian also started Les Vins Pirouettes in 2015, an umbrella brand that mentors and markets his fellow Alsatian biodynamic and organic growers – a beautiful range of glou-glou natural wines that we also have the pleasure to represent!
“We have a real treasure under our feet here,” Christian Binner, an Alsatian natural-wine icon, nods with satisfaction as we observe the verdant vines running as far as the eye can see from his sun-laden deck. “I see Alsace as one of the historical terroirs for wine, a place where the vine is really happy to be. There’s an incredible diversity of soils, little rainfall, and low disease pressure, making it a great place for natural winemaking,” he continues. Indeed, this narrow strip of land between the Vosges Mountains and Germany is one of the leaders of organic viticulture (according to certain sources, 25% of the vineyard area in the region was either organic- or biodynamic-certified in 2019), but when Christian took over the family winery and did his first harvest in 1999, this revolution was only just unfolding.
A long family history
The Binners have been farming in the village of Ammerschwihr since 1770, first in polyculture, and since WWII as full-on wine growers. Christian was lucky that his ancestors, although never officially certified, always worked the land in the organic spirit. “Even in the 1950s, when mechanization and fertilizers started to take over, my father quickly realized that he preferred to continue to work as he was used to, i.e. with a lot of handwork, manure and natural treatments for the vineyards. Thanks to this, we have this enormous luck of having vines as old as the 1930s, planted by my grandfather, that never saw chemicals in their life,” Christian retraces the family history. His father Joseph was similarly careful in the cellar, and, with the help of the legendary Beaujolais grower and natural wine trailblazer Marcel Lapierre, who became a family friend, they were already making wines without added sulfur in the 1990s.
Biodynamics: not just the soil health
With Christian at the helm, the Domaine Binner doubled down in this direction during the 2000s, becoming certified organic and delving deep into biodynamics while taking inspiration from working with winemaker Pierre Masson, the local pioneer of Steiner’s philosophy. “The biodynamics opens yet another social, farming and autonomous dimension of winemaking – one with way more passion and human touch,” Binner explains what led him to adopt this approach over 10 years ago, topping it off with an official Demeter certification in 2020. For Christian, it’s not just about the soil health – he convincingly describes how all the little steps that form the day-to-day biodynamic practice, from collecting the herbs used in tisanes for the vines’ immunity, folding the grass under the vine instead of mowing it, doing most of the vineyard work including spraying by hand, or working the soil with horses rather than tractors, also create a strong connection to his vines and to the local community.
His experience also shows that biodynamically grown vines perform much better when faced with the variability and unpredictability of weather that climate change brought to Alsace. “It’s definitely more difficult to get good grapes now than it was 30 years ago, but I find that our vines are naturally more resistant and we’re still much better off than our conventional colleagues, who often have to put out fires right and left,” Binner says in a podcast. To harness the power of biodiversity even more, the next step for him and his crew is now transforming some of his plots into permaculture and forest-like systems.
The natural treasures underground
Inspired by the success of the biodynamics he’s witnessed in the vineyards and the one-of-a-kind architecture of Goetheaneum, Steiner’s fascinatingly odd HQ situated in the Swiss village of Dornach, Binner has also had a special bioclimatic underground cellar constructed. The building took more than 5 years of careful planning and construction, and it represents a unique amalgam of local materials (such as pink sandstone from a Vosges quarry, firs and oak trees from forests near Ammerschwihr), savvy engineering and anthroposophical principles. There are no right angles or hard edges, and everything flows in curves. “And all the materials are placed the way they’re found in nature. The beams are positioned roots-down, and the stones are all orientated in the same way as they were before being quarried. This maintains proper polarization and design flow,” Binner describes in his Pipette interview how deep into detail they went during the cellar’s conception.
Both levels of the winery keep the temperature naturally stable, which has allowed Christian to make wines with better peace of mind and longer evolution. “I see how serene the people who work here feel, including me, and think the same goes for the microbiological population,” he laughs, adding that they’ve observed way less taste deviations in their wines since moving to the new facility. Keeping the yeast and bacteria happy is very important here – the Binner wines haven’t seen any added SO2 since 2013, and hence benefit from spending some time in the cellar in order to stabilise naturally. “As Marcel Lapierre used to say, natural wine should be good above all. No matter who you give it to, they should like its taste, without reservations,” Christian believes.
Grands vins d’Alsace
The longer elevages also bring on the unique terroirs he farms, including several Grands Crus. (In total, Domaine Binner makes wine from 8 hectares of their own vines and the grapes harvested from 7 hectares farmed by his friends and fellow BD growers Stéphane Bannwarth (whose delicious own-label wines we also import) and Laurent Mandres.) Binner recalls how Alsatian winemakers used to age wines for multiple years before release, “just like in Jura or Champagne”, a tradition that was largely lost in the ravages of WW2. The local norm then shifted towards wines that are rather easy and fresh, often sweet and usually monovarietal–all characteristics that don’t sit too well with Christian.
“The more wine we make, the more I think our identity isn’t about the grape. There’s this general idea of Riesling as a light wine and Gewurz as sugary, which I find very reductive. Our wines are driven by the personality of the place where they’re born,” he explains in Vincent Sulfite’s podcast. Depending on that place, that might translate both into a monovarietal wine “if the grape is well adapted to the site and reveals the terroir,” or into an assemblage of the Alsatian grapes galore, such as the lip-smacking blend of all the kinds and colors of Pinots that he grows in the eponymous Hinterberg vineyard.
A living legacy
In 2015, Binner also started Les Vins Pirouettes, a smart collaborative project that helps his fellow Alsatian organic and biodynamic growers “who don’t always have the time or drive to deal with branding” to make zero-sulfur wines in their own cellars. The result is an uber-popular range of lovely wines (which have the pleasure of importing to the States as well; more on them here), confirming Binner as a truly innovative force in Alsatian wine making – a beautiful legacy for a winemaker who still has many more vintages to look forward to.
- Riesling Champs des Alouettes (formerly know as Riesling Katzenthal)
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Noir Beatrice
- Hinterberg les Pinots
- Amourschwihr White
- Amourschwihr Red
- Si Rose
- Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg
- Scarabée Skin Touch
- Chrysalis (Ten Bells special)
Riesling Champs des Alouettes (formerly know as Riesling Katzenthal): — Back to the top
Vinification Method: All grapes are hand-harvested in October and undergo a long slow press. The juice sees low temperature fermentation and the wine is aged in 100-year-old barrels on fine lees for 11 months. No chemical yeast is added to the wine, and the wine is bottled without filtration. All wines are held at the vineyard until Christian Binner decides that they are ready for release.
Pinot Noir— Back to the top
Viniﬁcation: This wine is whole cluster fermented in large foudre, using only indigenous yeast. It spends about 11 months in elevage in foudre and is racked once in spring. Sulfur is never added to this wine and it is unfiltered.
Pinot Noir Cuvée Beatrice— Back to the top
Soil: limestone, sand, clay, loess, gypsum, and schist
Age of Vines: 55+ years old
Yield: 35 hl/ha
Vinification notes: The grapes are hand-harvested and whole-cluster fermented in large foudre, using only indigenous yeast. It spends about 11 months in foudre and is racked once in spring. Sulfur is never added to this wine and it is unfined and unfiltered.
Hinterberg Pinots— Back to the top
The Hinterberg Vineyard is in the Katzenthal Valley with very steep hills facing South. It is situated in the same geologic formation as the Grand Cru Schlossberg vineyard. The wine is what the French call “blouge” – an abbreviation of the words BLanc (white) and rOUGE (red), referring to the fact that it’s a co-ferment of red and white grapes.
Varieties: fieldblend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Beurot
Yield: 35 hl/ha
Vinification notes: This wine is a co-ferment of red and white grapes left on the skins for a short time, then pressed and matured for about a year in big foudres. No addition at any point, no fining, no filter.
Personality: juicy and surprising! The red grapes contribute a rosé element, the white grapes a macerated one, and together it gives a wine that’s light-bodied and offering something different with each sip.
Amourschwihr White — Back to the top
Varieties: Riesling and Pinot Gris mainly with a bit of Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Auxerrois.
Vineyards: A blend of different sites around Ammerschwihr. Mostly loess soil, organic and biodynamic
Viniﬁcation: The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed and pressed to ferment together in large Alsatian oak vats (foudres). Zero sulfur added, unfined, unfiltered.
Personality: balanced and eloquent! Complex, round white with notes of exotic fruit and spices, a great material for food pairing.
Amourschwihr Red — Back to the top
This wine is a blend of the different sites that Christian farms around Ammerschwihr, his hometown. Hence the name, a play on the French word for love!
Varieties: roughly 75% Pinot Gris, 25% Pinot Noir
Vineyards: A blend of different sites around Ammerschwihr that Christian is now converting to organic and biodynamic. Mostly granitic soil
Viniﬁcation: The grapes are hand-harvested and spontaneously ferment together as whole bunches with gentle foot stomping. Pressed and aged for about a year in large Alsatian oak vats (foudres) in Christian’s bioclimatic cellar. Zero sulfur added, unfined, unfiltered.
Personality: a juicy, fun “blouge” (the French word for coferment of red and white grapes). Smooth Pinot Noir tannins wrapped in the aromatic depth of macerated PG, this is a fun light red that is best served chilled yet reveals its different facets as it warms up in the glass.
Sylvaner— Back to the top
Vineyard: Loess and limestone
Vinification Method: the grapes are hand-harvested and undergo a long slow press. The juice sees low-temperature fermentation and the wine is aged in 100-year-old barrels on fine lees for 11 months in Christian’s bioclimatic cellar. No chemical yeast is added to the wine, and the wine is bottled without filtration, fining or sulfur addition.
Personality: sunny and refreshing! Generous nose of meadow flowers, summer apples and quince, underlined by a gentle fizz that adds vivacity to every sip.
Si Rose— Back to the top
This cuvée was originally inspired by Severine Peru formerly of Ten Bells in New York City and was an exclusive wine sold only there, but now is available for everyone to enjoy (although in very small quantities). The name is a macabre play on words – the French pronunciation of Si Rose is the same as cirrhosis, hence the liver on the label.
Varieties: Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris
Vinification Method: The pinot gris and Gewurztraminer are macerated on the skins. The Gewurztraminer lends powerful aromas and the pinot gris adds a touch of pink color to this wine, but the final product is definitely an orange wine.
Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg— Back to the top
Schlossberg, the Grand Cru vineyard where this wine is born, is a very solar, full-south site, whose warm days are contrasted by nights cooled by winds from the nearby Vosges mountain range – a combination that’s perfect for wine with flamboyant aromas yet very fresh. Its poor, well-aerated soil gifts the wines with a compelling finesse, although they might take some time to develop, both in the cellar and in the glass – after all, this is a grand cru, meant to last!
Vineyard: Schlossberg, majestic terraced slope with full south exposure. Almost half of the vines are 60 years old, the rest is about 40yo. Poor sandy-granitic soil.
Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested and gently pressed. The alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously over many months with natural yeasts in old oak barrels. Aged 11 months on the lees in the same vessels, bottled unfined and unfiltered, zero sulfur added.
Personality: lush exotic & candied fruit mingled with sweet spices and citrusy notes. Wonderful structure and acidic backbone that asks for another sip. Vibrant, salty, mineral, persistent: you name it. Best served after some time in carafe, in a big enough glass.
Saveurs— Back to the top
A non-vintage cuvée of 2020 and 2021, two very different years that balance each other out perfectly: 2020 was a warm, solar year for Alsace, while 21 was wet and challenging, with lower yields yet appealing acidity. Christian, therefore, decided to blend them together in this flavorsome white cuvée!
Grapes: mostly Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Auxerrois, accompanied by Chasselas, Sylvaner and Muscat
Vineyard: a valley with north exposure, with poor granitic soils in the upper part and richer loamy soil with pebbles in the lower part. Longtime farmed organically by Christian’s friend, now in official conversion
Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested and manually sorted in the vineyard. Once gently pressed, the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously over many months with natural yeasts in old oak barrels and foudres. Aged up to 23 months on the lees in the same vessels in Christian’s bioclimatic cellar. Blended and bottled unfined and unfiltered, zero sulfur added.
Personality: a fruity, easy-drinking white with a pleasant acidity that brings a whole range of saveurs (flavors) to any day of the week!
Scarabée Skin Touch— Back to the top
This wine comes from the “Grand Cru fétiche” of Domaine Binner called the Kaefferkopf (“the head of the scarab beetle” in the Alsatian dialect, hence the name). It’s a truly historical terroir – you can find a wine label from this site dated 1328! And the Binner family has been farming since genérations as well.
Depending on the vintage profile, Christian uses its fruit in different ways – in cold, dry years like 2016, the healthy grapes lend themselves perfectly to skin-contact wines like the one here.
Grapes: a field blend of mostly Gewurztraminer with about 1/3 Riesling and a bit of Muscat
Vineyard: Grand Cru Kaefferkopf, located on 6 different slopes (“kopfs” or head in local dialect) around Binner’s winery. Heavy, rich soils of granite and sandstone, south-eastern exposure. Certified organic and farmed by Christian himself using biodynamic techniques
Making of: The grapes are hand-harvested and manually sorted in the vineyard. The whole bunches were macerated for 2 weeks with daily punchdowns by feet, all varietes together. The grapes are then gently pressed for 12 hours, the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations happen spontaneously over many months with natural yeasts in old oak foudres. Aged for about 2 years on the lees in the same vessels in Christian’s bioclimatic cellar. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, zero sulfur added.
Personality: elegant, layered wine that you can enjoy on its own for a little wine meditation, or with flavorsome dishes. Its flamboyant aromas of dried fruit and velvety yet present tannins will work miracles with Asian cuisine as well as lush, spicy dishes from all around the Mediterranean! Good aging potential.
Chrysalis (The Ten Bells special wine made by Sev Perru) — Back to the top
“A product of the friendship of Christian Binner and Séverine Perru, wine director at The Ten Bells NYC. Christian provided the grapes, the space and the kindness to put together Sev’s first cuvée. Aged in magnum bottles and ready for maximum enjoyment!” Very limited creation, one barrel only for each cuvée.
Grapes: 2017 is Sylvaner 70%, Muscat Ottonel 15%, Pinot noir 15%
2018 is Sylvaner 70% Muscat Ottonel 20% Pinot noir 10%
Making of: Early pick to keep the freshness and juiciness of the grapes and create a low alcohol wine. Light whole-bunch co-maceration of all the varieties together for a week, basket pressed and fermented and then in old oak barrel for a year. Bottled in magnums only before the next harvest. No fining, no filter, no addition.
Personality: a juicy fruit salad d’Alsace!