Here’s an opportunity to experience a little taste of the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy through their native grape Lagrein. Lagrein is the oldest indigenous grape variety of the Alto Adige region and a relative of Syrah and Teroldego. Alto Adige is Italian for South Tyrol (Südtriol in German). It is Italy’s northernmost district and is also one of its smallest. The landscape is punctuated by the peaks and valleys of the Dolomites and Italian Alps. The producers in this area focus on quality over quantity. Most, if not all, of their wine, is terroir-driven. Castel Sallegg Lagrein D.O.C. 2019 is one of those wines. Made with 100% Lagrein grapes manually harvested from their humus-rich clay soil vineyards in the vicinity of Lake Caldaro.The grapes are then selected, destemmed, mashed, and, malolactic fermented at a controlled temperature in stainless tanks. It is aged in stainless steel (80%) and French oak for twelve months. It is blended for two to three months and bottle aged for an additional six months.
Castel Sallegg Lagrein 2019 has a very dark ruby color with faint floral aromas. Flavors of mixed black fruits are carried on a structured medium body with mild tannins appearing mid-palate. More than ample acidity throughout. Pairs well with any grilled or roasted red meat or pasta in a hearty red sauce.
Castel Sallegg is a family-run firm of winegrowers located in Caldaro, Alto Adige (Italy) that is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the winemaking culture of the region. With a storied history and a tradition of commitment to excellence, the von Kuenburg family has ensured the production of quality wines from Castel Sallegg for over a century. While the winemaking team has great pride in its past they are focused on the future and the challenges that must be navigated to maintain its high standards in all phases of the operation.
For answers about how they are addressing these problems and what we should know about Castel Sallegg, I asked its Director Ulrike Platter to share her thoughts with my readers and me.
1. The wines of Alto Adige are famous for being able to express their terroir. What methods and technologies does Castel Sallegg employ to ensure this “Sense of place” is preserved in your wines?
“Oltradige, the epitome of the wine-growing tradition in Alto Adige, lies at the foot of the Mendola Mountains in the hills of the western Adige Valley between Bolzano and Termeno. Vines have found ideal conditions in this delightful landscape for thousands of years. The winegrowing region of Alto Adige is one of the oldest in Central Europe and the entire German-speaking world.”Oltradige, the epitome of the wine-growing tradition in Alto Adige, lies at the foot of the Mendola Mountains in the hills of the western Adige Valley between Bolzano and Termeno. Vines have found ideal conditions in this delightful landscape for thousands of years. The winegrowing region of Alto Adige is one of the oldest in Central Europe and the entire German-speaking world.
The Alps form a protective barrier against cold winds from the north, while the southerly Ora wind from Lake Garda has a mild Mediterranean influence. Our wines benefit from the cool downslope winds coming off the Mendola Mountains. The vines flourish here thanks to an average of 1,800 hours of sunshine per year and average temperatures of almost 17 degrees Celsius during the vegetation period.
The family-owned vineyards are located in 3 historical vineyards in Caldaro:
✓ Preyhof / vineyard Prey: 550 m above sea level and situated in the Caldaro district of Paese di Mezzo.
✓ Leisenhof / vineyard Leisenpuiten: 500 m above sea level. Central location in the village of Caldaro.
✓ Seehof/vineyard VIGNA Bischofsleiten, vineyard Nussleiten: 230 – 280 m above sea level. San Giuseppe al Lago, Caldaro.
Due to the vineyards, which range from 230-550 m above sea level, Castel Sallegg identifies the best conditions for each grape variety and tries to make optimum use of this diversity.
Best practice: Our VIGNA Bischofsleiten Lago di Caldaro scelto classico superiore DOC: VIGNA (What is a Grand Cru for the French is a VIGNA for the Italians and for us South Tyroleans.) guarantees our customers that the grapes for this wine come 100% from this vineyard. In order to preserve these 50-year-old vines, the vines that fall out due to age, illness, etc., will be replanted with our own clones.
The goal is to produce top-quality wines in harmony with the terroir we have.”
2. With Alto Adige containing so many different microclimates and growing conditions in its vineyards, have the vineyard managers noticed any changes as a result of climate change? If they have, what can you tell us about them and how are you planning for your future vineyard management?
“Our vineyard manager noticed the changes, especially this year, which was hot and dry. Since Castel Sallegg is more of a red wine winery (we produce 58% of red wines) and we often had difficulties in the past years, with the red grapes, such as Lagrein, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon fully ripening, so 2022 was a great year for us.
In addition, 80% of our vines are 30-50 years old, which means that the roots are growing very deep to get enough water for themselves even in a very hot season. These vines are stable.
Problems can be seen in younger plants or new plants.
For this purpose, we invested in a project for the next few years, which will digitize needs-based irrigation. This means that the humidity of the soil is measured by soil sensors and the vines in different places were partially watered by a targeted system.
Since we have some vineyards on a slope and the vines get less water at the top by draining and the vines at the foot get more water we can irrigate more targeted and water-saving.
We have also noticed increased hail in recent years. For this reason, we will place our most important vineyards under hail nets in the next 2-3 years.”
Thank you to Ulrike for sharing her time and down-to-earth expertise in the mindset and operations at Castel Sallegg.
My review of the 2019 Castel Sallegg Lagrein will be posted soon.
Erste+Neue is the product of the 1986 merger of two wineries that began in the early part of the twentieth century. Erste Kellerei and Neue Kellerei combined to form Erste+Neue. The two wineries moved forward as one with a commitment and determination to stay on the cutting edge of alpine winemaking.
In 2018, Erste+Neue was awarded the prestigious international seal for sustainable viticulture by FAIR’N GREEN. The goals and standards of FAIR’N GREEN mirror the same deeply ingrained beliefs that guide the winemaking culture at Erste+Neue. Sustainability, protecting the environment, biodiversity, natural viticulture, and the protection of natural resources are the guiding principles that drive all decisions made at Erste+Neue.
The wines of the Alto Adige Region are famous for being terroir-driven and their bias to a specific area of the region. I was curious to hear how the vineyard managers and winemakers at Erste +Neue balance the demands of preserving and integrating the “terroir” factor into their wines while balancing the needs of the local ecosystem with the standards of producing world-class grapes and wine consistently.
Seeking answers to these questions and others, I posed them directly to a leading viticulture professional and Chief Enologist at Erste+Neue, Andrea Moser. The following is our interview published in his own words.
How does Erste+Neue approach the unique challenges that making wine in the Alto Adige present while still being able to produce the highest quality wines that display a “sense of place?
“Facing the challenges of climate change is becoming increasingly important in every wine-growing region of the globe, and in South Tyrol, too, it is no different.”
However, Alto Adige and specifically our area are at a great benefit with respect to this issue, in fact, our orographic situation is very particular. The vineyards start in fact with the red varieties at about 230 m.a.s.l. and arrive in just a few kilometers to elevations of about 700 m.a.s.l. where the white varieties find excellent ripening conditions. This large elevation range, combined with a constant south-to-north wind “the Garda Hour” and strong temperature fluctuations between day and night due to the mountains surrounding us (Mendola range), allows us to consistently obtain high qualities on both red and white grape varieties.
Ripe but fresh and elegant reds and whites with low pH, good acidity, crisp and fresh that perfectly embody the spirit of our territory and our vineyards located in the middle of the Alps.”
How has being FAIR’N GREEN certified complemented your winemaking practices and philosophy in both the vineyard and cellar?
“For us, sustainability and especially respect for the environment has always been a key point to consider during our work from vineyard to bottle.
Since we have been working with Fair&Green we have made this commitment measurable and have strived to improve our efficiency and sustainability a little more each year.
In the first year of certification, we scored 68 percent while we are now at 82 percent on the scale that verifies, measures, and evaluates our degree of environmental commitment. Today, having reached the fifth year of certification, we have made many steps forward, such as completely eliminating some synthetic molecules for the phytosanitary defense of the vines, eliminating chemical weeding by 92%, increasing the areas under green manure thus increasing biodiversity in the field, and introducing sexual confusion in the vineyard to combat certain types of harmful insects. All our wines can be considered vegan since we have not used any clarifiers of animal origin for several years now, only yeast derivatives. By now, all the facilities for the production of cold, compressed air and nitrogen are equipped with energy recovery to produce hot water. We have equipped ourselves with photovoltaic panels that can provide us with about 40 percent of the energy we use.
In terms of packaging, the biggest step has been taken by eliminating bottles that are too heavy. In fact, we have gone from 700/750-gram bottles to 500-gram bottles, reducing our CO2 footprint by a third.
The road to true all-around sustainability is still a long one, but we are very committed and determined to get there as soon as possible.”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin Klammer, Sales Director of Erste+Neue for his support because without it this article would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Andrea Moser, Chief Enologist of Erste+Neue for his time and candid insights into the ideology behind the winemaking mindset at E+N. I found his comments about how the culture at E+N and the environment are intertwined extremely informative because I hold a degree in nature conservation. The following is my review of Erste+Neue Classic Pinot Nero 2021.
Pinot Nero is known internationally as Pinot Noir. Pinot Nero is an early-ripening grape with a thick skin that has the reputation for being a “Heartbreak Grape” variety because it requires a great deal of care in the vineyard thus making it difficult to produce a successful harvest consistently.
Erste+Neue Classic Pinot Nero 2021 is a sophisticated well-made wine that can be purchased at a very fair price. This Pinot Nero is ruby red in the glass and opens with the aromas of cherry & faint raspberry that is followed by the prominent flavor of cherries on the palate while smooth tannins and lively acidity are borne on the medium body of this wine. The finish is lengthy and agreeable.
Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite Italian winemaking region. Next, conjure up images of its beautiful landscapes, vineyards, and signature architecture. Finally, remember how wonderfully the wine reflects its terroir and expresses the true characteristics of the land. Now, open your eyes and tell me was it Alto Adige? No, then let me tell you about this spectacularly grand alpine province which includes parts of the Dolomites and is also known as South Tyrol. This enchanting Italian wine region is nestled between Switzerland to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria to the east.
Alto Adige is home to Elena Walch wine estate. The Elena Walch wine estate is among the elite of Italian
wine producers and has been the standard-bearer for quality and innovation under the guidance of Elena Walch and now her daughters Julia and Karoline. The estate’s philosophy toward winemaking has always been defined by its dedication to the land and terroir. Elena Walch wines are a direct expression of their soil, climate, and care in the vineyard. The disciplines of sustainability and care for the land are strictly adhered to and passed down to future generations. Julia and Karoline Walch have steadily advanced and evolved the viewpoint of their mother since taking over as General Managers of the estate in 2015.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Karoline Walch about how they are carrying on that commitment to excellence and how you can taste it in their wines.
Elena Walch wines have always been faithful to the ideology of respecting the land and the environment so your wines are a direct reflection of the terroir. How do you see your commitment to that principle manifest itself in your wines?
Since the beginning, my mother wanted to produce wines that are a true reflection of a single site. Our two most important single vineyards are the Vigna Castel Ringberg and the Vigna Kastelaz, both very distinct and unique sites. With a combination of limestone soils and its microclimate given the lake influence, the vineyard Vigna Castel Ringberg is farmed sustainably to best adapt to the characteristics of the site. It is finally the salinity and depth that distinguishes it from many other wines within that category. The Vigna Kastelaz, on the other hand, is one of the very few vineyards facing completely South, and hence, benefitting from very sunny and dry growing conditions. Not only, it is extremely steep and due to its proximity to the Mendola mountain ridge, the temperature fluctuations are huge. This allows us to develop the primary aromas to the full spectrum, yet retaining the acidity. Not surprisingly, this is our icon site for Gewürztraminer. Finally, to further highlight the importance of those two vineyards, since 2014 our wines that grow on those two sites, carry the prestigious denomination of Vigna – It is an additional mention of a smaller geographical origin and designs the smallest historical/geographical unit of a vineyard. Every single Vigna must be officially admitted and registered within the regional government. It expresses the ultimate thought of terroir philosophy with the idea of a parcel wine from an exact plot and hence having a historical or traditional name.
How does your state-of-the-art fermentation cellar help you in accentuating all the unique terroirs of your diverse vineyard sites?
Our estate’s philosophy is inherently connected to terroir – the idea that the wines are an individual expression of the vineyard’s soil, climate, and cultivation. We start with quality in the vineyard, but the way the grapes are handled at the winery is an important step in how the finished wine expresses its sense of place. Our new, high-tech cellar allows us to be flexible and adjust to the requirements of both single vineyards and individual varieties.
With the new cellar, there are three important changes: the option between whole-berry or whole-bunch fermentation; the strict use of gravity to process the grapes as gently as possible; and four different points of quality control before the grapes reach the fermentation tanks. The aim is to create wines that have more structure, more fruit, and soft, supple tannins with great aging potential while being more elegant and refined at the same time. KW
Elena Walch set sail into uncharted waters when she built her winery on the idea of producing the highest quality wines that are terroir-driven and sustainably grown. Her daughters, Julia and Karoline, are continuing the journey she started but are always adding their own contemporary interpretation to their winemaking.
We can talk about how Elena Walch wines express their terroir and how producing wine sustainably can be tasted and experienced in a tangible way but it is impossible to truly understand what Elena Walch wines are like without tasting them for yourself. I feel quite confident that after reading Karoline Walch’s perspective on how she approaches making wine that you have a desire to taste her wine just to see for yourself why it is so special. The only question that remains is which one to try first. Luckily for us, Elena Walch wines are superior wines so you can’t make a mistake. Since Alto Adige is the northernmost region in Italy the Germanic grape varieties tend to be prevalent but that is to be expected since it is so close to Germany that 70% of its population speak German while only 25% speak Italian. Elena Walch is known for its white wine, which includes their popular Gewürztraminer and “Beyond The Clouds” but their reds are also top-notch.
When I explore a wine region I am always curious about the wine made from its indigenous grape varieties. When I looked at Alto Adige, Schiava caught my eye. Schiava is an indigenous grape varietal often associated with the region. Schiava typically produces an aromatic light but acidic red wine that is highly versatile when it comes to food pairings. Elena Walch Schiava is a solid choice because it ranks high in quality and taste for this varietal. Elena Walch Schiava 2019 has a cranberry color, mild tannins, and bright acidity with flavors of red fruit and Schiava’s signature tinge of bitter almond on the finish. It is best when served between 60-65ͦ F/16-18ͦ C. This wine pairs well with Mediterranean fare and pasta.
Elena Walch wine estate is only one of the extraordinary wineries in the Alto Adige region of Italy that are
eager to share their enchanting culture and remarkable wines with you.