Sparr, Amélie & Charles
- Alsace, France
Charles is the 12th generation of the Sparr family, which dates back to the 12th century and has Scandinavian roots. In 2007 the Pierre Sparr brand and company were sold to the Cooperative of Beblenheim, but Charles Sparr kept the 12 hectares of vineyards. Sparr completed his studies in oenology and marketing and then worked for two years in Napa at Pernod-Ricard; he came back to Alsace in 2010 and worked the family vineyards, starting the conversion over to biodynamic agriculture (his wines were certified Ecocert organic in 2017 and will be officially Demeter biodynamic certified in 2019). Charles met his wife, Amelie, in 2010 at a wine fair (where else do wine people meet?) and they decided to work together and create a new wine estate. They make all their wines in Wettolsheim at the Vignoble des 2 Lunes winery (previously known as Buecher-Fix, Amelie’s family winery). The Amelie & Charles Sparr estate was founded in 2017, and it vinifies all the grapes from the Sparr vineyards, while the Vignoble des 2 Lunes bottles the wines that used to go under the Buecher-Fix label. - Ian D'Agata, Vinous
Amélie and Charles Sparr are Alsatian through and through; both come from winegrowing families. The Sparr family has been in the region since 1634, making Charles the 12th generation. Pierre Sparr, a famous and respected negociant, was Charles's great grandfather and father. The company was sold in 2007 to a local co-op and the vineyards the family owned were split up among the cousins and Charles's uncle. Charles always knew that he wanted to be a winemaker and when he was 16 years-old, he saved up his money and bought his first vineyard. In 2010, Charles bought more vineyards from his family. Immediately, he converted everything to organic agriculture and in 2013, Charles, with his wife Amélie, launched their eponymous winery. They sold to négociants for a few years and started to bottle under the Domaine Amélie and Charles Sparr in the 2017 vintage. Amélie's family owns Vignobles des Deux Lunes, which has been organic since 1997 and biodynamic since 2003. Amélie and Charles’ winery is in Wettolsheim, just south of Colmar. They now own eighteen hectares coming from both sides of the family, in the heart of southern Alsace where the best vineyards are located. They are lucky to own eight hectares of Grand Cru, including Mambourg, which has been the Sparr family’s most prized vineyard for generations.
Amélie and Charles have imagined and created a new vision for what Alsatian wine can be. They experiment, dream, and push boundaries and in the process they are redefining what we can expect from Alsace. All of their farming is biodynamic, certified by Demeter as of the 2019 vintage. Most of their wines are classic in style, but they play around too. They have planted some Syrah in Mambourg, which will disqualify that parcel from being declared as grand cru in the future! They also make an orange wine called “Liberté” which comes from grand cru vineyards, the name is self explanatory.
The heart and soul of their work takes place in the vineyards. They work with a high canopy, allowing for more photosynthesis, and thereby more energy can be transmitted to the fruit. This is a theory that I first heard espoused by Charles Lachaux in Burgundy, who is a good friend of theirs. Sometimes they do not hedge the vines at all, in order to not cut off the energy of the plant. They work with a lot of plants for treatments as well: nettle, chamomile, dandelion, and horsetail. If a treatment for mildew is needed, then they work with copper and sulfur. Different infusions help with different maladies. Harvest is done entirely by hand in small bins so that the grapes don’t get crushed before they get to the winery.
In the cellar, they work with whole clusters and use a slow and gentle press, which lasts about twelve hours. They leave the juice to settle for two days before racking. Fermentations happen spontaneously and normally last for three weeks, although it varies year to year and from one variety to the next. The wines stay on the fine lees for eight to ten months. No sulfur is used until bottling and so all wines go through malolactic fermentation. Their Rieslings are made in stainless steel and everything else is fermented and aged in oak barrels (225L and 600L). All of the barrels are made by Stockinger in Austria, which the couple prefers because they find that the impact is not too oaky.
They mainly grow Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer, about 20% of each, followed by 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Blanc. The remaining 10% is a mix of Muscat and Pinot Auxerrois. 2017 was the first vintage bottled as Charles and Amélie Sparr. Charles and Amélie studied in Burgundy and I have to say, their Pinot Noir, “Jardin d’Eden” is one of the best I’ve ever had from Alsace. It comes from an exceptional limestone plot in Sigolsheim. It’s made with whole clusters and is aged for twelve months in oak. They make a Muscat from Grand Cru Brand and they work with a carbonic maceration. The “Cerisier en Fleur” is a multi-vintage blend of Riesling, Muscat, and Pinot Blanc from 2018, 2019, and 2020. It’s a touch floral, but very dry with only 2g/L residual sugar. The Riesling gives a great acidity. It’s made in stainless steel, so very fresh, and the final alcohol is 12.5%.
We had a chance to discuss the impressions of the first few vintages that Sparr has made. Charles said the 2017 was very challenging with low yields, only 30hl/ha because of spring frost, followed by hail later in the year, and then the summer was very dry. Despite the challenges, Charles is happy with the quality of the wines. 2018 was quite warm with 60hl/ha yields; lower acidity than 2017 but nice structure and balance. 2019, also a warm year but with even more structure and power because the maturity was higher. 2020 is similar in style to 2017, something fresher with more acidity. For warm vintages, they are not hedging to keep shadows and they are not cutting the grass to keep humidity in the soil, in an effort to keep freshness. In 2020, they started harvest on August 20th.
There is plenty to discover here in both the classic and ‘new’ style. It’s great to see the young generation bring a creative energy to Alsace, revitalizing interest in this often overlooked region.