Sophie, Maxime, and Geneviève Barmès in the Clos Sand (photo: Greg Moore)
The late François Barmès wholeheartedly embraced the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner’s belief in the interdependence of the forces of life, earth, and the cosmos. So in 1995, in order to undo the damage caused by decades of chemically dependent viticulture, he began the transformation of his vineyards to biodynamics.
One of the first principles of biodynamics is the belief that the farm is a self-contained living entity, which gives rise to the rule that a biodynamic farmer may add no organic substance to a product of his farm; if that organic substance did not itself grow within the boundaries of the same biodynamic farm.
Which means that the “Champagne Method” isn’t an option in producing biodynamic sparkling wine, because it requires the addition of sugar to a tank of dry wine just before bottling (needless to say, beets and sugar cane don’t grow on the chalk soils of Champagne, or pink sandstone in Alsace). When François decided to produce Crémant d’ Alsace (the traditional sparkling wine of the region), he devised an ingenious adaptation of the abandoned “méthode ancienne,” bottling the wine just before the end of the primary fermentation of the natural grape sugar, which is then completed in the bottle. It’s a process fraught with the peril of exploding bottles, but it preserves the integrity of the unadulterated biodynamic wine: there is nothing in the bottle but good grapes.
His son, Maxime, continues this work at the Domaine Barmès-Buecher. Beginning with the selection of biodynamically-farmed grapes which may include Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois, Chardonnay, and a bit of Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir (depending on the growing season and the harvest).
The result is a sparkling wine that you really want to smell and taste. So use a good wine glass, not a tall skinny flute, and watch it continue to evolve and put on weight, even after the creamy mousse subsides. This is great wine the minute you pour it, and even better a half hour later.