At some point this year, the gods were smiling down on me and I won a week’s holiday as the guest of Elena Walch in Italy's premium wine production region of Alto Adige.
Alto Adige is unlike any other region in Italy, primarily because they all speak German, and from what I could see, wander round in their laderhosen. The region was ceded from Austria to Italy following the First World War, but new law makers have certainly not changed the traditions, language and indeed the grape varieties of this small region that is tucked away in the stunning dolomite mountains.
Historically the region was focused on volume over quality but this was to systemically change when a successful and talented architect named Elena married into the Walch family. She swiftly saw that the love and attention lavished on the families unique hillside vineyards were getting lost as the grapes were sold to large volume co-operatives and immediately decided to do something to remedy the situation.
She quit her job, surrounded herself with talented and driven people who shared her vision for quality wine production. With phenomenal drive, passion and determination Elena forged the Elena Walch brand which has become synonymous with quality and has been showered in awards and accolades including the coveted ‘Tre Bicchieri’ for her single vineyard Gewurztraminer Kastelaz 2012. It is truly a vinous rags to riches story on the quality scale.
I had the pleasure of exploring the winery and the single vineyards at my leisure, strolling through the breathtakingly beautiful Kastelaz vineyard overlooking the little town of Tramin and the Castel Ringberg with glorious views past the castle down to Lake Caldaro. I tasted the 2013 wines from both tank and barrel. Tasting through the barrels I could only wonder which were destined for the secret blend of the award winning Beyond the Clouds cuvee.
It was a fascinating experience to taste Sauvignon Blanc from different plots of the same vineyard, that were vinified separately (the steep slopes give both differences in soil and microclimate) to fully explore their unique characteristics and enable a much more informed blending process. It is not often I fall in love with Sauvignon Blanc, but the resulting single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Castel Ringberg is a lesson in crystalline purity, freshness, depth and elegance; a uniquely beautiful wine.
The wines reflect the vision and personality of Elena and her family; they are richly textured, deep and complex but not showy, they are graceful yet not to be underestimated, and it is an absolute pleasure to spend an evening in their company.
Written by Alex Harper, London Trade Sales