Allegrini 2018

South Tyrol, a land of great white wines and unparalleled diversity, focusing on zoning

5,550 precious hectares of vineyards, 20 grape varieties, 150 soil types and now 84 Additional Geographical Units, under approval, to grow even more

5,550 hectares of vineyards, a handkerchief of land that represents 0.7% of Italy’s total vineyard area. And yet, the Alto Adige of wine, from this vineyard run by 5,000 winegrowers, who care for an average of just over 1 hectare each, manages to tell an incredible story of diversity, thanks to vines that cover an altitude ranging from 200 to 1. 000 meters above sea level, and to 20 vines (with white vines covering 64% of the surface, Pinot Grigio and Gewurztraminer in the lead, followed by Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Suvignon Blanc, while the two most cultivated red vines are the autochthonous Schiava and Lagrain) which have married over the years 150 different types of soil (from volcanic porphyry to soils of metamorphic quartz and mica rocks, from limestone and dolomite to sandy marl). A mix that - thanks to the work of 12 cooperatives that have always made the highest quality their hallmark (and that account for 70% of total production), 62 private wineries (that produce one bottle out of every four of Alto Adige’s wines) and more than 100 small Independent Winegrowers (who share 5% of production) - gives rise each year to more than 40 million bottles (98% DOC), which today, for the most part, speak of Alto Adige as a land of great white wines, and of great longevity.
Thanks in part to a slow but decisive revolution in the vineyard, which began in the 1980s and was presented in the glass at the Alto Adige Wine Summit 2021, held a few days ago under the direction of the Consorzio dei Vini dell’Alto Adige.
It governs a land where viticulture has been present since before 500 B.C., as shown by archaeological findings in the area, and which has experienced two decisive turning points: the first, in 1850, when Archduke John of Austria introduced Bordeaux, Burgundy and Riesling varieties to Alto Adige while it was still under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The other, as mentioned, around 1980, when, also under the pressure of a market crisis for South Tyrolean red wine, then prevalent but not of great quality, a change towards quality and white wine production was triggered, as told to WineNews by one of the most important personalities of South Tyrolean viticulture in the last 40 years, Hans Terzer, winemaker of one of the reference points of the area, San Michele Appiano. “South Tyrol was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire until World War I, and it was one of the few places where wine could be produced. White wine was scarcely consumed, they focused mainly on red wine, perhaps with low alcohol content, because they produced so much, too much. In the seventies of the twentieth century they were still making 300 quintals of Schiava per hectare, it was normal, whereas today we are about 100-120. White wine, maybe, was drunk on Sundays, at the restaurant, after Mass, but it was not the norm. White wine has made its way since the eighties, when we managed to conquer the national market as well, because before our markets were Germany, Austria and Switzerland and the local market, which remained important. There was an almost obligatory change - explains Terzer - because the system was in crisis: the grapes for red wines were paid little, the wines were of poor quality, and slowly we saw that the right recipe was to do the things in which we feel strong, that is the whites, and Pinot Noir or Lagrein in some areas. And, little by little, we have made a name for ourselves, a reputation also thanks to the Italian wine guides, which have encouraged both the market to know us and us, producers, to work better in the vineyard, and it has been a process of growth that has lasted 30 years and still has to go on. The secret of great quality is in the vineyard, and we must reward, also economically, the winemakers who produce the best grapes”.
And, in the future of Alto Adige wine, whose vineyards are among the most valuable in Italy (the Crea quotations speak of figures of up to 700,000 euros per hectare), and whose market, more unique than rare, is above all national (36% in Alto Adige itself, thanks also to a strong concentration of high-level and starred restaurants, 40% in the rest of Italy, and then abroad, led by Germany, where 1 bottle out of 10 ends up), there is precisely the further enhancement of the quality and diversity of the territory. For this reason, in addition to the already existing sub-zones of the Alto Adige/Südtirol DOC (Valle Isarco, Santa Maddalena, Terlano, Merano, Val Venosta and Colli di Bolzano), work is underway to create Additional Geographical Units (UGA), with stringent criteria. That is, areas delimited with extreme precision, 100% of the grapes coming from the Cru, which must be identified also thanks to a homogeneous climate and geological conformation, where only some vines can be cultivated, and with a 25% reduction in yields compared to normal. 84, as of today, the Additional Geographical Units (UGA) already delimited and included in the request of modification of the production disciplinary, which is going through the process.
Yet another step of a territory that has always been in the forefront (here were born two agronomic and viticultural research centers of great international relevance, such as the Istituto Agrario San Michele, in 1874, and the Foundation of the Centro Sperimentale Laimburg, in 1975), and that, although with a strong and defined identity, has been able to catch with timing the challenges of every time, and to plan with foresight its wine future.
“A fundamental project for our territory, now on the table for discussion at ministerial level - explains Martin Foradori, vice president of the Consortium and producer with Hofstätter winery, one of the most famous of the area - is the introduction of zoning, that is the Additional Geographical Mentions (IGM): it is an extremely important project that will give a further impulse and an even stronger bond to our wines with the land where they are born. Zoning reflects our vision for the next decades of South Tyrolean viticulture”.
“We have a clear idea of the road we want to take and for this reason, through the 2030 Agenda, we have set ourselves concrete goals - added Andreas Kofler, president of the Consortium of Cantina Kurtatsch, another leading cooperative in Alto Adige - and embarked on a path that will promote and incentivize sustainability, aware that the measures defined in the Agenda will require a change in thinking on the part of all those involved.
Last but not least, a thought for the 2021 harvest: if the weather conditions continue as they have in recent weeks, we are looking forward to an excellent vintage and we are particularly happy about that because we see the great and complicated work of recent months paid off. We do not want to sing victory yet, but the conditions for a truly unique vintage that will remain in the history are all there”.
With Alto Adige looking to the future, thanks also to a market that seems to have withstood the impact of the pandemic: “In a complicated economic situation, Alto Adige wine - said Eduard Bernhart, director of the Consortium - has worked to keep the sector competitive, in Italy and abroad, experimenting with new paradigms of communication and sales that today allow us to be stronger, better prepared, more digital, more social, more communicative, more adaptable and more dynamic than ever before”.

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