Forty five kilometers north of Bolzano is the town of Bressanone, or Brixen. One of the last settlements in Südtirol (Alto Adige) before the border with Austria, the region has changed hands repeatedly over past millennia resulting in a strong Bavarian culture. As we discover, most of the population speak German, and even the Italian speaking among us become visitors, like explorers of a new land.
We are 530 meters above sea level, the valley and hills unfurl spaciously all around. Here, our voices can travel for miles, and only cowbells break the silence of the land. Copses of alpine spruce densely cover the mountains, those ancient stone guardians that render us safe. This gentle part of Südtirol has a story to tell, and through fields swathed in powderpuff shades of veridian and moss, we wind our way towards cantina Taschlerhof.
Margit Wachtler, wife of Peter, greets us in traditional Bavarian dirndl dress.
“Just in case you didn’t get the hint from the road signs in German," she laughs, “Here we are very proud of our heritage!”
We find Peter Wachtler in his small, terraced vineyards, making his morning inspection, a part of the day he enjoys immensely and takes incredibly seriously.
“I grow only four grapes here- Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer,” Peter explains, holding a ripe, yellow-gold bunch of Riesling in his hand, “But they are all particular, with different personalities, and we have to always be receptive of their needs.”
Peter knows well the land he walks. His vines have been around since the early 90s, and he first vinified in the year 2000. A staunch defender of artisanal cultivation methods and minimal intervention, he puts his efforts and his faith into his organic farm and the rewards of nature. The vineyards are almost precariously steep in places- an arduous task for the skilled and meticulous pickers who will come to harvest in a few weeks time.
Selecting four, aromatic, white grape varieties is no coincidence. As Peter explains, the climatic conditions here are optimal for making white wines. A combination of favorable sun exposure and the cooling influence of altitude mean the slopes around Bressanone have fantastic diurnals. During the daytime, the warmth of the sun allows delicate fruit and floral aromas to develop, while the cool nights lock in the flavors and avoid over-ripening, allowing the grapes to retain their natural high acidity. Peter’s educated grafting and clone selection, and selective Guyot training, are the final touches for these expressive whites.
Taschlerhof wines are all single varietal, and before we dive into the bottles we better get to know the grapes we will be tasting. “Riesling is actually pretty rare in this region, which is a shame because of the slatey soil which it loves,” Peter explains, “They’re also late ripening, so the flavors have a long time to fully develop.” The wine is a joyous straw-yellow color with light green reflections. It is quite typical in its strong bouquet with delicate peach, raspberry, melon, but there is something distinct- the meadow grasses and the soil enhance an intense mineral note that many winemakers struggle to achieve.
With a difference in vineyard’s height above sea level of over 200m, we are keen to understand which grape Peter grows where. Kerner is a 1929 cross between two vitis vinifera varieties- the red grape Schiava (Trollinger) and Riesling. It’s white in color and hardy, perhaps due to its parentage, and can survive winters that fall as low as 10 degrees celsius. “The Kerner grapes are strong, and can stand the cold temperatures, so I plant them highest,” Peter explains, “Although they can be disease susceptible so, of course, we must treat them with respect!”
The Kerner in the glass is a different wine entirely; slightly rounder and grapey, with an almost Muscat-like quality, a hint of citrus peel, and ripe peach and mango flavors. We sip and imagine pairings- definitely a winner with spicy food, Asian soups… and gorgonzola… seafood certainly, crustaceans… Either we have become super-tasters or we are just finding excuses to keep sipping this complex, distinct wine!
Peter Wachtler is doing everything right by the land. Alongside other members of the Independent Growers of Südtirol group, he is pioneering and refining his techniques year after year, in an endeavor for quality that is admirable. At just over 40,000 bottles a year (minus the few that we drank that day!), the production is modest and allows the true nature of his special terroir to reveal itself in every glass.
“The exciting thing about these vines…” says Peter, staring thoughtfully at the glinting glass of Riesling in his hand, “They produce fruit more powerful, more concentrated, more elegant, every year.”
All the more reason we are delighted to represent Taschlerhof’s sublime bottlings, and we can’t wait to taste what the future holds.