Where in the world do we find examples of great terroirs? We could define great terroirs as being those where few vines offer a myriad of interpretations thanks to the different soils and the ability of local wine-makers to “read the room.” However, there are also examples of wine landscapes, Italy is overflowing with them, that owe their greatness to the immense ampelographic range they contain, and which give them characteristics of inestimable value in the world of wine production.
These terroirs add the term fun to their background, as well as expressing greatness. Why are they fun? Because they offer a variety of options in terms of pairings, needs, scents, and tastes.
Alto Adige, for example, boasts 20 different grape varieties on a total of 5,500 hectares, cultivated between 200 - 1,000 meters above sea level. Here we can find 218 wineries (but that number, when including wine cooperatives, is actually much closer to circa 5,000 winegrowers). Total production is around 330,000 hectolitres, with most production concentrated on whites: 62%. The remainder is accounted for by red wines representing 38%, and sparkling wines that results in 400,000 bottles of deliciousness.
This is the general panorama of Alpine wines today, from a strictly statistical approach. This mountainous region is surprisingly also home to citrus trees, as well as valleys nestled between peaks and sunny slopes,. Here, we find predictably snowy mountainous winters, balanced by long, hot summers. You could say that the Alto Adige region is Italy’s middle ground, cradled between a cold Central Europe and the mild southern areas.
The Alps in fact protect the the Italian lands from the cold, humid air masses from the north. They also usher in warm, humid southern winds from Lake Garda and the Mediterranean Sea. An average of 300 days of sunshine per year make this territory a “Southern North region.”
THE ONLINE TASTING HOSTED BY THE CONSORZIO VINI ALTO ADIGE
The six wines tasted during the Consorzio Vini Alto Adige’s digital tasting confirmed not only the local grape varietals from this area, but also their innate expressive distinctiveness.
We tasted the following vintages:
1. Valle Isarco is home to Kerner Sabiona of the Valle Isarco winery, 300 hectares that belong exclusively to the Sabiona monastery, located 400-800 meters above sea level. This wine has an important, robust palate, recalling peach and apricot notes as well as a flinty presence. The beautiful winery is home also to a gorgeous convent garden, and the monastery is one of the most renowned pilgrimage destinations of Tyrol.
2. With Gumb Hof's Sauvignon Blanc, Praesulis, we remain in southern Valle Isarco, at a lower altitude. The wine proves quite dynamic, where scents of apple and pear are joined by more exotic spices. These notes are entirely supported by the wine’s minerality and sapidity.
3. In Val d’Adige, en route from Bolzano to Merano, we find Terlano with its historical cooperative winery. An iconic wine is certainly the Vorberg, crafted with 100% Pinot Blanc. This infamous label is responsible for letting many know the benefits of aging white wines. This 2018 vintage shows aging promise, but if you’re impatient, it’s easy to enjoy now. We can sense white flowers like hawthorn and linden, together with a delicate yellow fruit to give the wine a boost of delicacy and important acidity.
4. In Bassa Atesina, in Cortaccia, we find Tiefenbrunner's Muller Thurgau, here in its select version, Feldmarschall Von Fenner, a label born at over 1000 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level. A truly particular wine thanks to the presence in its aromatic matrix of grape and botrytis cinerea. This noble fungus often is a presence within these three hectares of vineyard, and helps develop the sweeter notes of this wine. The end result of this combination is a wine mixing freshness with exotic spices like saffron. Notes of honey and caramel are also present in each precious sip.
5. On the Adige’s left bank in the Venosta Valley is the Pratzner family's winery, Falkenstein. They are responsible for the Riesling, which is also their most important grape. Favorable temperature ranges paired with a sunny slope recall comparisons with the most famous wine of Germany’s wine region, Mosel. The Falkenstein Riesling vintage emits citron, mandarin, lime, and white peach scents. We can also hint at a mint-like sensation lingering on the palate, leaving us with a fresh, balsamic effect.
6. We’ll close with a red wine, Castelfeder's Pinot Noir, Borgum Novum Riserva. Now, we’re in Cortina, in Bassa Atesina, where the Giovanett family has persistently focused on the Pinot Noir varietal. Their loyalty to this grape has yielded five different labels to select. We’ve opted for the Glen plateau variant, with vineyards cultivated between 450 and 800 meters above sea level. Despite its 2017 vintage, the wine is redolent of small red fruits. We find a an elegant crispness with admirable liveliness throughout.
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA FOR 2020-2030, SOUTH TYROL SETS SOME GOALS
2021 marks the year of further innovation in the Alto Adige region. In a joint effort with the Advisory Center for Fruit Growing and Viticulture, the Laimburg Agricultural Experiment Center, the European Academy of Bolzano, the Free University of Bolzano and sustainability expert Alfred Strigl, the South Tyrolean Wine Consortium has developed the South Tyrolean Wine Agenda 2030.
The foundation was created in order to build a future for this wine region, based on concrete sustainable wine production methods to be implemented by the year 2030.
The mission of the Wine Agenda group has been divided into 5 different segments reflecting the five pillars upon which the wine sector is divided: soil, vineyards, wine, territory, and personnel. Within the agenda of the group, each sector has an outlined corresponding model and recommendations assigned in order to help successfully put changes into functional place.
To safeguard the soil, the agenda recommends shifting to exclusive organic fertilization practices. This will require the replacement of disposable synthetic materials with biodegradable ones.
New, uniform regulations will apply in vineyard management with regards to phytosanitary treatments. Precise, incisive interventions will be applied, and from 2023 onwards, synthetic herbicides will be entirely prohibited from use.
Concerning both vineyard and wine production, more careful attention will also be paid towards the creation of carbon dioxide emissions, and ways to lower these rates.
Theses sensitive operational sectors will instead be reliant upon the delicate balance between increased actions to preserve the rural landscapes and its entire production chain and how to responsibly increase human involvement within the wine and wine production sector. The end goal is to help the wine industry continue to grow on a larger scale, from the bottom up, and keeping all economic, ecologic and legislative needs in the forefront of sustainable growth.
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR CONSORZIO DIRECTOR EDUARD BERNHART
Q: How has this pandemic year been for Alto Adige? The lack of tourism, as well as the Horeca (Hotel, Restaurant, Catering organization) contacts, how much did this affect sales and promotion of the Alto Adige wines?
A: An important detail to keep in mind is that Alto Adige’s local wine production is very diversified, with almost 5,000 wineries employing about 10,000 people. In the wine-making and distribution sector, the region is populated by small, if not minuscule, family-run businesses that have reacted to the past year in different ways, but all with the intention of addressing this unprecedented historic moment.
Naturally, products destined for the Horeca market, which accounts for approximately 50% of South Tyrolean wines, suffered a greater downturn. Additionally, wine tourism in our South Tyrol region, also closely linked to the Horeca sales contacts, is a very important sector for us. The forced additional closures of 2021 winter season in particular had an indisputable effect.
Nonetheless, our region was able to bravely enter this difficult time with great initiative and pragmatism. Great strides have been made in strengthening local wineries’ e-commerce channels, and social media communication has played an ever-increasingly important contact with our end consumers. Thanks to the wineries’ reach-out, the high quality and immense versatility of Alto Adige area wines has been communicated internationally.
Q. In anticipation of the summer season, are wineries and wine tourism gearing up for hospitality? If so, how?
A: Wine tourism in South Tyrol has always had great potential, and today, we look forward eagerly to welcoming visitors, tourists, and wine lovers back to our region. Wineries are preparing to welcome visitors in complete safety, and we have the added bonus that Alto Adige offers visitors a wonderful blend of characteristics and opportunities for unforgettable experiences.
Our natural fortune, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites offers the South Tyrol region a location with inestimable value. Here, visitors can enjoy in complete safety countless hiking, biking, and walking paths through vineyards running through the entire territory.
Additionally, the Alto Adige region also is home to our local “wine road,” mapping out over 200 local wine producers hands-on experiences and the chance to learn exactly what goes into producing these beloved wines.
The wines of Alto Adige represent a local cultural heritage deeply rooted into the area’s history. This established resources is a point of pride for local producers, who gladly share their experiences with visitors, and are able to further enhance experiences with wine pairings with local cuisine, another terrific local Tyrolean resource.
Q: When everything returns to “normalcy," will the Consorzio continue to focus on Italy, or will it aim at conquering international markets to diversify its resulting sales?
A: Italy is surely an essential market. The Italian consumer is of central importance, and one who loves to drink quality wine, with an appreciation of the versatility of South Tyrolean wines.
This is the reason why the Consorzio has decided on two new pillars of communication for 2021: enhancing South Tyrol’s wine quality, and gaining a foothold in the Premium wine market segment.
The Consorzio will also look to strengthen the communication process with both B2B (direct communication in Business to Business wine professionals), but also within the B2C sector, as we seek to improve communication efforts directly with international wine lovers.
We’ve noted that the wines of South Tyrol are in fact highly appreciated and sought after in markets abroad, which means that we could and should increase our exports to above today’s 25% share.