Allegrini 2024

Among the world’s oldest active wineries, Novacella Abbey celebrates 880 years of history

Founded in 1142 it has always been inhabited by Augustinians, who produce wine, cultivate orchards, practice highland grazing, welcome wine tourists

Founded in 1142 by Blessed Hartmann, bishop of Brixen, it has always had a “mystical” bond with the land: its birth was due to generous donations of farms and land that soon grew to 100 estates. An important Romanesque-medieval cultural center, its heyday lies in the Renaissance, when to protect its precious manuscripts and works of art it was surrounded by a wall, which managed to protect it from Turkish aggression but not from peasant uprisings. To the Baroque and Rococo dates the birth of the Academic Theological Studio, to Neoclassicism, that of the famous Library, witnessed with its 98,000 volumes to centuries of suppression, spoliation and reconstitution, from the Tyrolean wars to the Restoration, from Fascism to bombing by the Allies in World War II. A protagonist in the vicissitudes of its territory, like the rings of a tree, of each it bears traces around its ancient heart, the Abbey Church and cloister with the Well of Wonders. This is the fascinating story of Novacella Abbey, one of the oldest active wineries in the world and among the most famous Italian “wine monasteries” celebrating 880 years since its founding. A place of religiosity, beauty and culture, nestled among the vineyards of South Tyrol, where the Augustinian Canons who have always inhabited it, now led by Abbot Eduard Fischnaller, produce great wines in the two estates they own in the Eisack Valley in Novacella and in Cornaiano with the Marklhof Estate (800. 000 bottles a year, 70 percent white, exported to 40 countries around the world), also growing orchards, practicing high altitude grazing, caring for the forests and welcoming wine tourists. And with proverbial hospitality they will do so especially this year, in 2022 of events and exhibitions to celebrate the historic anniversary, starting, of course, with an extraordinary and limited edition in only 880 Magnums of the “cult wine” inspired by one of the norms of the Augustinian Rule: the Sylvaner “Cor unum et anima una”.
Thanks to the munificence of Reginbert of Säben, ministerial of the Chapter of Brixen, the Novacella Abbey Winery already counted at the time of its foundation several vineyards, as well as agricultural farms and land, recognized by Pope Alexander III. As a result of donations, bequests, purchases and exchanges, the Abbey went on to take possession of a substantial estate of vineyards among which it is still nestled, and which extend on slopes from the Convent’s 600 meters above sea level to 900 meters above sea level, typical of the Eisack Valley. Testifying to the hard labors faced by the Augustinians in planting the vineyards are still today the dry stone walls that terraced them, mitigating their slope. In this growing area, which is the northernmost in Italy, the conformation of the terrain gives the grapes all their uniqueness: the terroir, the synergy that arises from the encounter between territory, soil and climate, demands to be interpreted with “religious” care, offering ever new answers to the choice of the most suitable variety for each individual microcosm. In the Middle Ages red wine varieties were mainly cultivated, although with poor results: in fact, it seems that it was so acidic that it compromised the health of the Canons. Around the 20th century, it was finally realized that the area was better suited to the cultivation of white grapes. Today the white grape varieties grown in Novacella’s 6 hectares of vineyards (which also has 12 hectares of apple orchards and 0.2 hectares of herbs) are Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. Abbey reds, on the other hand, are produced in Bolzano and Cornaiano. As early as the beginning of the 17th century, Provost Markus Hauser had purchased the vineyards in the Bolzano Basin that still belong to the Abbey today. This was a rather far-sighted decision, just like the acquisition of the Marklhof Estate in Cornaiano at the beginning of the 20th century, which today, alongside 13 hectares of apple orchards and 24 hectares of forest, has 22 hectares of vineyards planted with Schiava, Pinot Noir and Moscato Rosa.
Novacella wines are synonymous with high quality and regionality. Strict production standards increasingly focused on eco-sustainable principles and a constant commitment to continuous improvement ensure vintage after vintage of very well-structured wines full of character, the result of sustainable viticulture in response to climate change, such as the latest additions to the “Insolitus” line (Ohm, Quota and Hora from Bronner, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner varietals in 2020, and Quota 2, the barrique-aged Pinot Blanc and Ton, an amphora-aged Sylvaner in 2021). Grapes from the best vineyards, where “everything is perfect”-microclimate, soil, age of the vines-are chosen to produce wines from the “Praepositus” Cru line, the highest expression of the terroir, with great potential for maturation over the years and regularly reviewed by critics in the leading wine guides. But the Abbey is also in charge of 700 hectares of forest and 400 hectares of highland pastureland used in part as a hunting reserve, and each of the monastery’s activities is tasked with offering products with excellent value for money, so that the name of the house can be a mark of quality and seriousness. Each sector must be economically self-sufficient, and the winery, wine cellar and wine shop must make regular profits, which are used to cover Abbey’s restoration, rehabilitation and other investments, but 50,000 euros are also donated each year for social projects around the world.
“The arrival of the spring season always coincides for Novacella Abbey with the coming into full swing of the many activities that enliven its program of events that enrich its offerings for visitors through the fall”, explains Werner Waldboth, sales director of Novacella Abbey, “but 2022 is a particularly important year for the Abbey, which is celebrating its 880th anniversary: the creation of a celebratory wine, the Sylvaner “Cor unum et anima una”, on sale exclusively in the Abbey’s wine shop, has kicked off a period of celebration, filled with many initiatives”. Wine shop in which more than 200 products from monasteries and abbeys throughout Europe can also be found. Alongside the classic tours of the winery and vineyards, and tastings in the typical Stiftskeller (the wine cellar) of Abbey’s wines paired with typical Tyrolean delicacies of speck, cheese, smoked sausages and Schüttelbrot, the Abbey Museum, renovated last year and open to the public (50,000 visitors a year), which, in addition to displaying numerous works of art, hosts exhibitions devoted to a variety of cultural and religious themes. Until the end of May, the exhibition “Ex voto” by artist Lorenzo Brivio is on stage, with a series of paintings that take a contemporary approach to the traditional theme of votive works. And on May 14, special guided tours will allow visitors to view Tyrol's largest Baroque painting, on the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Brixen painter Stephan Kessler. Also through May 22, the “Water Light Novacella” exhibition showcases works by Brigitte Kowanz, Keith Sonnier and James Turrell at Castel Sant’Angelo, and walks through the Abbey Complex are planned as part of a journey to encounter water in its diversity and light as a source of life. From May 28 to Sept. 3, an exhibition celebrates the founder of the Abbey, Artemanno of Bressanone, and at the same time paintings by provost emeritus Chrysostomus Giner will be on display. On the same day, the St. Florian Choir, one of the oldest and most traditional choirs in the world, will perform. Also from May, the Abbey’s Historic Garden, a place of meditation, meeting and regeneration for the Canons, can also be visited. Then, from July 16 to July 30, a space will be set up in Castel Sant’Angelo for amateur painters from Novacella, while from Aug. 1 to Sept. 6, “fiat lux” by Albert Mellauner and the Ladin Art Group will be presented. Finally, from Sept. 17, a special exhibition will be dedicated to games and pastimes in the ancient monastery.
Along with wine production and schooling (for 90 students, boys attending the monastery school, a branch of the O. v. W. die Brixen, with room and board), vocational qualification and lifelong education also play a prominent role in Abbey’s activities. Committed to conform to the spirit of the times, in 1970 the then Abbot Chrysostomus Giner pioneeringly founded a Center for Tourism. It was joined a little later by an Ecological Center for qualification and updating in the eco-social field. Over the decades, initiatives in this area have led to the establishment of a Convention Center for training and lifelong education run by a nonprofit association that currently organizes seminars and courses aimed especially at younger people.

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