Katzenthal is an unassuming little Alsace vineyard village tucked away in the foothills of the Vosges. It’s not exactly on anyone’s beaten track and you have to mean to go there. Most people miss it, thundering by on the main road to Kaysersberg (for a tasting at Madame Faller et ses Filles perhaps?) or heading up into the Vosges for a picnic or lunch at a ferme-auberge. This is a mistake.
Next time you’re in the neighbourhood, make a point of pausing here. The village, hidden in its little ‘Cat’s Valley’ and dominated by the 11th-century limestone Wineck castle (pictured) with the Grand Cru vineyard Wineck-Schlossberg at its feet, may be small but it punches way above its weight in the sheer numbers of interesting winegrowers working here.
Frédéric Bernhard of Domaine Jean-Marc Bernhard arrived fresh-faced and slightly out of breath on his bike for our tasting – the cave and reception area is at his grandfather’s house in the centre of the village and a small way from his own home. He’s typical of the young generation of Alsace growers who’s done time in other winegrowing areas (studies in Champagne and Burgundy, followed by stages in California, Switzerland) and is now firmly back home in Katzenthal. From 9ha in 6 different Grand Crus around Katzenthal, Sigolsheim and Ammerschwihr, Frédéric makes about 20 different wines from 30 different parcels, each vinified in small cuvées. Special favourites of ours (we’re not alone, unfortunately, so hurry to buy the current vintage) are his Muscat and Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes. His Sylvaner is a brilliant example of what the best growers can do with this formerly neglected/despised grape and it’s eye-rubbingly good value for money.
Félix Meyer runs the 12ha family domaine Meyer-Fonné, situated almost opposite Jean-Marc Bernhard. His vineyards are situated in the granitic Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg and also in various lieux-dits (named vineyar sites) dotted around the village, as well as in Grands Crus Kaefferkopf and Sporen. Meyer’s wines are made with minimal residual sugar (with the obvious exception of late harvest and botrytized wines), dry yet full of fruit. The spanking new tasting room is more convenient and eye-catching than the more informal arrangements of old, though there was something very appealing about tastings conducted in the cellar, accompanied (in November) by a wonderful symphony of bubblings and burpings from busily fermenting foudres. Try his Pinot Gris, which achieves the rare feat (for PG in Alsace) of finishing dry, as well as his Gewurz Vieilles Vignes and the spectacular GC Wineck-Schlossberg Riesling. Production, as with all the Katzenthal growers, is small and wines sell out fast.
The Klee Frères of the Domaine du Boulanger (be careful: there are loads of Klees in Katzenthal) have a mere 1.8ha of vines (average holding in Alsace is around 7ha, to give you an idea) and wine-making for them is a part-time occupation. There are three frères, Gérard, Francis and Laurent. One is an IT specialist, another a winemaker for a large domaine in Ammerschwihr and the third a nurse in Colmar. “It’s a weekend job”, smiles Laurent, and proceeds to show us the fruits of their weekend work. We were smitten their Pinot Gris Hinterburg from a lieu-dit close to the village, seduced by their Gewurz Pfoeller (another lieu-dit) and impressed with their entry-level, non-oaked Pinot Noir Hinterburg, preferring it to the barrique-aged Pinot. As above, tiny quantities, and sensible prices.