European winemakers focus on biodynamic wines at Summa 14

Some of the participants in this year’s Summa 14, the annual gathering in Magré, Italy, of select wine producers, walk through the courtyard of Casòn Hirschprunn, the 17th-century palazzo of winemaker Alois Legeder. Lageder sponsors the event, which this year focused on biodynamic wines.

Winemaker Matteo Sasso, accompanied by Ludovica Cesa Asinari dei Grèsy, shows off the 2009 Camp Gros Martinenga Barbaresco from the Tenute Cisa Asinari deil Marchiesi di Grèsy. The 100-percent Nebbiolo wine is made biodynamically, which allows Matteo to “do good things for the wine and for the soil.”

The Alto Adige is the northern-most wine-producing region in Italy and sits wedged against the Dolomites and the Italy-Austria border.  The land was Austrian until after World War I and the road signs reflect the mix of German and Italian.

Magré, BZ, Italy—Spring comes reluctantly to this northern-most part of Italy, hard by the snow-covered Dolomites and the crystal-clear headwaters of the Fiume Adige, which we English speakers call the Adige River.

This is a land of contrasts, as is most of the Italian wine-country landscape, you might argue.

But here, a few miles south of where Brenner Pass drops precipitously into Austria and where snowy peaks backlight lemon trees and olive trees growing in a understated Mediterranean climate, the contrasts are perhaps more noticeable.

This is the Südtirol/Alto Adige/South Tyrol, where road signs are in German and Italian and the flaxen-haired waitress (her German counterpart is Kelnerin while it’s cameriera in Italian) may address you in either language.

Or, quickly recognizing you as the tourist you are, speaks in lightly accented English.

The Italy-Austria connection is strong, since this part of Italy was Austrian until the international borders shifted after World War I. In fact, a shopkeeper in Bolzano insisted his city was the southern-most Austrian city in the world, and who was I to argue?

The contrasts also lay in the land, where miles of grapevines reach into the laps of the surrounding peaks.

Because of the area’s history and its location, you find varieties of wine grapes — Müller-Thurgau, Lagrein and Riesling, among others not common elsewhere in Italy.

You’ll also find many talented winemakers, perhaps none more talented than Alois Lageder, the fifth generation of his family to grow grapes and make wine here.

This spring, and the previous 13, Lageder invited to Magré a hand-picked assortment of winemakers from Italy, Germany, Austria, France and elsewhere to participate in his two-day Summa at Casòn Hirshprunn, the family’s 17th-century palazzo.

All of Lageder’s wines are made in concordance with the biodynamic practices developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, a philosophy relying on a particular method of treating soil, plants and livestock.

While Steiner’s practices have long been popular in Europe (Germany has 45 percent of the world’s biodynamic acreage), it’s slower to take hold in the United States.

This year’s Summa 2014 had a focus on biodynamic wines, an effort, according to the winery, to “show that biodynamic means forward-looking and has the answers to the issues that currently face both ecological agriculture and society in general.”

As Lageder says in the notes accompanying the Summa guidebook, to make the best wines possible “one also needs something more than healthy, fully-ripened grapes from the best vineyard sites. There is also a need for the right philosophy and for true human commitment.”

This commitment was reflected in the 60 or so winemakers, offering finely crafted white and red wines, as well as producers of select olive oils, cheeses and salume.

Winemakers were set up in the ancient, granite-walled granary as well as on several floors of the palazzo, and the hardest decision was when and how often to stop, swirl and sip the proffered wines.

One stop in the granary was at Gut Hermannsberg of Nahe, Germany, which produces world-class Rieslings.

Spokesman Christoph Freidrich opened a coffee table-sized book to a map of the area and showed how the land and the geology contributes to the minerally, citrus-like elegance of the wines.

“The land gives us the perfect opportunity to make delicious wines,” Friedrich said.

Across the stone plaza, young (23) winemaker Matteo Sasso gladly shared the 2009 Camp Gros Mattinenga Barbaresca DOCG from Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy.

The di Gresy estate dates from 1797 and has vineyards in the Langhe and the Monferrato areas of Italy’s Piedmont region, home to some of the world’s greatest red wines.

The Barbaresco was bright and fresh, with a bouquet of roses and fresh herbs and a faint hint of red licorice on the finish.

And, of course, it’s all biodynamic, as Matteo noted.

“I want to do something good for the soil, the wines and for my family,” he said. “Doing this (biodynamic) allows me to feel good about everything I do, and to make these delicious wines.”

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