Saturday, 17 May 2014

RIP Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach, One of My Favourite Winemakers

Claudius, uncle to that troublesome Dane Hamlet, lamented that "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions".  So it was when earlier this week, I learned that Laurence Faller, winemaker and co-owner of Domaine Weinbach, had passed away on Monday night at the tender age of 47.

The formidable women of Domaine Weinbach (l to r): Colette, Catherine and Laurence Faller

I hesitated for a while on whether I should say anything on this, but eventually decided that I could not leave this sad moment unremarked.  It was, after all, Laurence's wines which showed me the beauty and potential of Alsace wine, and which played such a large part in inspiring my love for this wonderful part of the world.

As Catherine Faller cheekily observed to me back in 2011, a factor in Weinbach's remarkable success was that they "treated their customers with a sense of hospitality that men sometimes tend to lack".  This was but part of the legend of the women of Weinbach, with Laurence in the vineyard and the cellar, Catherine overseeing the commercial operations, and the matriarch Colette overseeing all.  Domaine Weinbach was a true family affair, and I have observed before in these pages how even during the busy harvest season, it was Catherine and Colette personally entertaining visitors in the parlour of their house at the Clos des Capucins.

I did not have the pleasure of meeting Laurence on my 2011 visit, although we had corresponded via email a few times since then.  After our most recent Alsace Society event last Saturday, I sent her an email on how well her gorgeous 2008 Pinot Gris Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives Trié Speciale (Wine Spectator 93 points; I think they were off the mark by around 6-7 points) was received.  As it happened, that was barely a day before her passing.  It saddens me to think that that will be our last contact.

It is fashionable, especially with regard to Burgundy, to note how much wines take after their makers.  Nothing truer could be said of the wines of Domaine Weinbach as they related to the Fallers - they were always elegant, approachable, beautiful and balanced.  Intense and mineral, pure and crystalline (apparently one of Laurence's favourite descriptors), they were not shrinking violets, but neither were they in-your-face.  In many ways, I found Weinbach the calming yin to Zind-Humbrecht's more aggressive and unpredictable yang.

But perhaps saddest of all, like Steven Shaw, is that Laurence was taken away from us at far too young an age, and leaves behind two young children.  I get enough reminders of my mortality from the way people drive in Malaysia and Singapore, and having been blessed with a beautiful little girl barely 18 months ago, I shudder to even think what it would be like if anything happened to me or the Wife.  But misfortune is random, and we just need to keep on living life and enjoying it for what it is.

If you are reading this and wondering what I am going on about, please do yourself a favour and pick up a bottle of Weinbach from your nearest wine shop, especially a Riesling, a Gewurz (Cuvée Laurence, peut-être?) or any late harvest wine.  Within it, you will not find truth, you will not find the meaning of life, but instead you will find the work and the love of a woman and her family who put so much into perfecting their craft, and which is emblematic of everything a great Alsace wine should aspire to be.

Vale Laurence.  Thank you for bringing me so much happiness, and also to many wine lovers worldwide.  My sincerest condolences and sympathies to Colette, Catherine, the family and the entire team at Domaine Weinbach.

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