Earlier this week, Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, died of an apparent heart attack at a very young 47. I met her on a few occasions when she traveled to New Orleans with her mother, Colette, building a rabid following for their wines. Beyond being stunned by her untimely demise and being reminded of the proximity of our ages, I mourn her loss for reasons we should all share.
The wine world in the 1990s was completely dominated by men. A few women had blazed trails, some owned wineries other made wine, but they were the exception rather than the rule. One of those leading quietly, by example, were the Fallers.
"____ et fils" ( ____ & sons) is prevalent in the wine world in France, but look at what Domaine Weinbach's website says "Colette Faller et ses filles"(Colette Faller & her daughters). That is a rarity, especially in patriarchal France.
Monks established Domaine Weinbach in 1612 and Théodore Faller and his brother purchased it in 1898. Théodore's son and nephew (Théo) inherited the property and later Théo's widow, Colette, took over, eventually getting both daughters involved as well. For a great overview of Domaine Weinbach and an opportunity to learn more, explore this link to their importer, Vineyard Brands.
Colette and her daughters, Laurence and Catherine, guided Domaine Weinbach masterfully. They traveled in support of their wines and got people to care about a much-overlooked part of the world. Colette and Laurence visited Martin Wine Cellar for tastings. Their looks initially attracted many but tasting the wines created the real relationship with the domaine.
In Alsace, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach arguably battled for top honors. While I always appreciated Z-H's wines and drooled over them for some years, their wines are over the top and unabashedly wild. The more subtle style of the Fallers won me over with time.
As I have grown and learned and tasted, I have decided that very often my palate prefers wines made by women. In the same way that testosterone-laden, he-man conversations bore me, so do 'bigger is better' wines. Certainly, not all women make elegant wines and not all men believe that going to 11 is the way to operate all the time but it happens frequently enough for me to have made a mental note.
The Faller women played a large part in helping me form this opinion and I am deeply saddened by the loss of one of the trio that created such magical wines. I sincerely hope Laurence's family will take some solace in the outpouring of grief and kind words currently being posted and shared.
Here are some: Decanter, Drinks Business, The Wine Society and Wine Searcher.
Rest in peace Laurence Faller, you are already missed.