Alto Adige: Alois Lageder

 

We spent a good part of the day with Alois Lageder wandering through vineyards, strolling through the village, understanding the winery and sharing many wines.  It was undoubtedly a highlight of our trip.

Alois Lageder is the fifth generation to assume running the family winery - inheriting vineyards dating back to 1875.  He took over this role in the mid-1970s and since that time he’s added vineyards to the family’s estate. Today the combination of the estate acreage and their partners they encompass 370 acres (150 hectares).  These vineyards are planted with 25 different grape varieties and produce a portfolio of over 40 different wines.  

As we walked through vineyards filled with farm animals, Alois explained to us that at one point in time they were getting inconsistent results in a vineyard which they feared may need to be re-planted.  So he sought ways to improve and in 2004 began changing to all biodynamic practices.  To complete the ecosystem, he teamed up with a local farmer by coming up with a scenario which benefits them both by bringing the cows and sheep down from the mountains and into the vineyards for the winter.  Seeing amazing results with these practices, not only did the vineyard not have to be replanted. It is now producing consistent, high-quality grapes.  Alois feels so strongly about what they’ve experienced he is now practicing his powers of persuasion as the President of Demeter Italia, an association to promote biodynamic products, hoping to convince other growers to follow suit. 

When he took on converting an old estate into their new winemaking facility he wanted to continue to seek ways, which would benefit the ecosystem.  He pioneered a building that is entirely sustainable using all renewable energy and the structure has no synthetic materials.  They also minimize the use of mechanics and use an all gravity press process during vinification. 

As he began to think about the impacts of climate change, he began diversifying and planting more warm weather grapes using the Guyot style. This added more international grapes to their portfolio, and in 1986 they made their first Cabernet Sauvignon.  When I asked him about the continued impacts to climate, he said you can't continue just to plant vineyards at higher elevations but does believe that some of the cool climate grape varietals may do well reverting back to the Pergola system due to the shade this canopy provides to the grapes.

His curiosity for experimentation continues in the making of the wines.  Going beyond the "standard recipe" for making whites like Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer they are exploring with skin contact methods.  One of my favorite wines was PORER Pinot Grigio, where one wine is created by blending from three different wine components; 1) pressing the grapes immediately, 2) skin contact for 15 hours, and 3) whole grape skin contact for 8 months.  In tasting these there was no bitterness, they were incredibly fresh, and it brought additional complexity to the wine.

The most innovative wines are a line they call, The Comets, based on the definition; "Comets flash by, leave a trail, and burn out. Some last for years, others just a few seconds. They leave an impression and can light a path to guide us in what we do every day."  Since each of the Comets is unique, the labels are done by hand using the thumbprint from everybody working in the winery to represent the tail of a comet. Everyone we met was excited to share with us which bottle his or her thumbprint had represented – such a fantastic idea! This line represents either new grape varieties, which Alois has planted 10 to 30 years ago and are not typical to grow in Alto Adige. Or classic grape varieties with different methods of vinification, different soil types and altitudes that represent the diversity of the region.

We carried home three suitcase wines, and I’m always in search for more here in the states, while envying those of you in Europe who can find their full selection of wines.  I’ll be sure to post as I drink them :)