An Interview with Lambert Spielmann

Even in a region as storied as Alsace, Lambert Spielmann stands out as a breath of fresh air. Not born into a family of vignerons, Lambert has done things the hard way, building things little by little and in just a few short years he has already stamped himself as one to watch in this most exciting of regions.

It was a pleasure to sit down with this earnest, passionate young grower to learn a little more about how he got here, the challenges he has faced and what the future holds.

A selection of Lambert’s wines can be found on Tutto a Casa

Hello Lambert. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from and how did you end up working in wine?

I am thirty three years old and am originally from Obernai in Alsace. I started my career working in the social sector, where I was looking after disabled people and the elderly at hospitals and care homes, as well as visiting them in their own homes. 

When I was twenty I moved to New Caledonia where I stayed for three years, before spending some time in both Switzerland and Belgium. I was frustrated by the complicated conditions of work. There was a lack of staff, resources and equipment and so, after several encounters with winemakers, I decided to redirect my career and study winemaking in Alsace. After my studies my plan was to move to the Loire Valley, but things didn’t work out that way.

In Alsace it is quite unusual to be starting from the very beginning, without inheriting any vineyards from family. How did you go about getting started? 

I found a mentor in Yves Amberg. He had been working organically here in Epfig since 1997 but wasn’t making natural wines when I met him in 2016. During my apprenticeship with him, I had the chance to take care of some vineyards outside of my working hours and experiment making wine the way I wanted.

This allowed me to gain some practical experience, start thinking about the future and to discover what did and didn’t work. I started making my first micro cuvées in 2017 and 2018. 

At the end of my apprenticeship, Yves offered to rent me one and a half hectares should I decide to stay in Alsace to start my own project. This is quite rare in the region and I didn’t want to pass on such an opportunity, so I abandoned the idea of moving to the Loire and started looking for equipment and a space where I could make wine. 

The most difficult part was convincing the banks to support me without a down payment. Eventually I found a bank that would lend me a little money, which allowed me to buy some vessels and equipment. I was also able to find an additional half a hectare and farm Alsatian varieties, which have all been farmed organically for more than twenty years. I am lucky.

Were there any other vignerons that inspired you or helped you out when getting started?

Yves Amberg was enormously helpful, since he rented me the vineyards and lent me the equipment to start. Likewise Florian Beck-Hartweg and Léo Dirringer have also been kind enough to rent me some of their vineyards, which has allowed me to increase the area I farm. 

From a more philosophical point of view, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Patrick Meyer before and during my beginnings. He has taught me a lot about vines and living wines. 

Could you tell us a little about the area in Alsace in which you are now based and the farm itself?

The domain is in Saint Pierre, which is right in the centre of Alsace. This year I bought just over an acre and I now farm two and half hectares of vineyards distributed over different communes around Saint Pierre.

In Epfig I have Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sylvaner and planted over rich clay soils facing east, alongside some Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling planted over sand and limestone. In Obernai I have Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner planted over clay and limestone facing northeast. 

In Nothalten I farm Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer planted over sandstone soils facing south, while in Dambach-la-Ville there is a little south facing parcel of Auxerrois planted over sandy loams and finally in Reichsfeld I have Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois facing south.

In general I tried to find parcels surrounded by forest and ideally with nearby streams that allow me to keep some freshness in the wines. 

In Alsace you are lucky enough to work with a large variety of grape varieties, what is it that you love about each? 

My favourite one without any doubt is Riesling, It is so fresh and lively and the variety that reveals the most about this terroir. 

I love the acidity of the Sylvaner, the only variety truly from Alsace, which has been frowned upon in the past, but is now increasingly respected and of course Pinot Noir, so subtle, I am lucky to have plenty in my little domain and I take good care of it. Finally, I also love the spicy, fruity and floral characters of Gewurztraminer and Muscat. 

With this great range of varieties, I can have fun assembling and finding the right balances between each. This allows me to create unique wines with a level of complexity. 

Could you describe how you approach your work in the vineyards?

Most of the work is done by hand. I prune late and there is no trimming, the vines are braided. I do a passage between rows with a tractor, alternating controlling the weeds between each row. 

Sometimes I cut the grass before the harvest, to avoid the pickers being hurt by thorns and nettles, but I think it’s important to preserve the greatest amount of diversity in the vineyard.

I also practice biodynamic farming, using 500P and 501 preparations along with infusions, which I adapt according to each vintage. 

Recently, I have started planting trees in the vineyards to provide some shade during the hot summers and to grow a little fruit for making cider. 

How about your work in the cellar? 

The grapes are collected by hand in small baskets, macerations take place in floating top fibre tanks, there is no remontage nor pigeage, to avoid too much extraction. The length of each maceration varies, I taste the wine every day and when I think it’s the right time I remove the wine from the tank. Macerations tend to be either very short or very long. 

Since last year, I’ve been using a small mechanical press. Pressings are quite long even with a direct press. Always soft, but slightly shorter for grapes that have been macerated. Some of the wines spend time resting in cuve or inox, while the others rest in old demi-muids.

For most of the wines I don’t pump over and everything is done by gravity, except when that is impossible. Because of the lack of space, sometimes I am not able to age the wines for as long as I’d like. The wines are usually bottled at the end of spring and before harvest, to make space for the next harvest. 

All cuvées are made without additions and without filtration, because I don’t want to distort or strip my wines of their character. 

Your wines have a very particular style, melding freshness, texture and complexity in a beautiful way. What characteristics do you look for in a wine?

Thank you. I think that the most important and the most complex with the latest hot vintages, is to preserve as much freshness as possible in the wine. To keep the acidity, which sometimes comes at the expense of harvesting earlier, slightly under maturity. The hedges, forests and water streams by the side of the vineyards, and some practices like agroforestry are also allies in this pursuit. 

Whilst I like it when there is great drinkability, I also appreciate some structure and saltiness and do not believe these traits are incompatible. 

I think that wines taste even better if shared with good people. 

Music plays a big part in your life, can you tell us a little about what influence it has had?

I’ve been making music since I was a kid and started my first band when I was thirteen. After leaving Alsace at the age of twenty, I kept listening to music and playing concerts. When I came back to the region, I got the band back together but we played with a bit more wisdom. I think that music and wine go hand in hand, both can provoke emotions, pleasure and are sources of sharing and conviviality. I would find it impossible to choose between music and wine. 

Unfortunately with the increasing amount of work that followed the start of my domain and because of the effects of the pandemic, I had to leave everything aside. My last concert was in February 2020, right before all the lockdowns, it seems like such a long time ago.

Finally, what does the future hold for Lambert Spielmann?

The most important one is to buy some land where to build a cellar, more suitable than the garage I currently use to make my wines. I would like to create a place to socialise and share. with a little bistro and a small concert hall, to organise events.

I want to keep working my two and half hectares but not more than this and would like to keep trying out new cuvées every year and diversify the cultures, have some fruits and vegetables, as well as cereals in small quantities, to live a little more independently. I have also requested my licence to distill, to get to the bottom of the product and to have fun with fortifying wine.

Finally, I am also thinking of planting varieties that are new to Alsace, more resistant to the heat. This year I’m trying out some Gamay over sandstone soils in Nothalten. This is something I’d like to explore in the following years. New varieties, review my pruning and training systems, and adapt the farming methods to better face heatwaves and droughts, which have become more and more present.