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You’ll remember your first taste of a wine from Cantina Terlano. Beautifully textured fruit and a dazzling minerality are just a couple of the characteristics contributing to this cooperative being widely regarded as one of the top producers of white wine in Italy - and among the best in the world. A true conduit of its region, the wines of Cantina Terlano sing so clearly of their place of origin - the Italian Dolomites. But so too, much to our pleasure, do its Directors.
Dora sat down with Klaus Gasser to dig a little deeper into this gem of a winery that we feel privileged to represent (and drink from).
Alto-Adige lies in the North-East of Italy
Klaus: Well, as you can tell by my accent it is not just an Italian region (he chuckles in his thick German accent) and my name is Klaus! Alto-Adige borders both Austria and Switzerland and is heavily influenced by this cross-cultural history. Previously part of the Austrian empire, the grape varieties planted (post phylloxera) were native Austrian like Gewürztraminer and Müller Thurgau, and French varieties (because at this time the Austrian empire was closely connected to the French empire) including Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
"This multi-cultural balance; in the mentality, in lifestyle, and in the wines is so unique."
Nestled in the Alps, all the vineyards are grown close to the mountains, or even in the mountains. The vines benefit from a Mediterranean climate of warm sunny days and cool nights. After sunset, the cool air flows down from the mountains, bringing freshness to the vineyards in the area. These cool nocturnal temperatures help to maintain the acidity within the grapes and gives that special German aromatic profile, typical to that of cooler climate wines. In the same way, the warm days give the wines richness and concentration. This balance between cool-climate aromatics and concentration is one of the reasons Alto-Adige's wines are so interesting.
The Terlano Estate
Alto-Adige is a small region, just 5000 hectares. Compare that to a region like Sicily which is 115,000 hectares! But here quality is concentrated. Take the incredible list of accolades the region receives, year to year compared to other regions, it really stands out. Firstly, because it is a remarkably interesting area in terms of terroir, very complex, from valley to valley, the differing soil structures and the influence from the mountains, all of which has an impact on the style, the texture and the incredible ageing potential of these wines. But also the wineries do an incredible job. I think it stems from our roots as an old Tyrolian culture, similar to that of the Swiss; very strong willed, hardworking - you know! As well as the gentle influence from Italy, the creative side. This multi-cultural balance; in the mentality, in lifestyle, and in the wines is so unique.
Terlano's steep-slope vineyards
Klaus: Cantina Terlano was founded in 1893, Terlano is not only the name of the cantina, but the village and appellation too. We have 190 hectares in production and about 120 members. Cooperative sounds like a mass word but our cooperative is made up of small growers, each owning around one hectare, some even less than a hectare. There is no law over how to run a cooperative, this is decided by the cooperative themselves, giving us the ability to implement our own quality rules and standards.
Every year each grower is given a plan, with a strict set of instructions and rules for how to cultivate their plot. As well as this, we have a viticulturalist who travels around all the vineyards to assist and oversee the growers work. Each grower knows exactly what wines their grapes are destined for, whether it be Quarz, Nova Domus or Terlaner Cuvée. There are multiple considerations which determine this decision; age of the vine, the clone they use, rootstocks and so on. Our growers work extremely hard in the vineyards, with extensive manual labour, in order to ensure the grapes are of the highest quality. In doing so, when the grapes arrive at the cellar, our only job is to preserve this quality through to bottling and give the wines the time they need to develop.
Klaus: Our philosophy at Cantina Terlano is based upon our history and traditions, we want to make wines which express the typical characteristics of the area and this unique terroir. Our speciality has always been white wines and our aim is to highlight the incredible ageing potential of white wines from Alto-Adige. We have been creating our signature blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for more than 100 years. And Rudi Kofler, our winemaker, who has been with us since the 50’s, has been holding back vintages in our cellars since he very first started, ageing the white wines on the lees more than 10 to 20 years. A concept which is possibly unique to Italy, this shows the real power of this terroir.
"Ugh, everyone talks about mineral wines but I don’t like to say mineral. It is this special tension, special texture that you get from these soils which presents itself in Cantina Terlano’s wines."
The winery's aging tanks
The soils here are very rich in silica minerals, like that of Pouilly Fumé. Ugh, everyone talks about mineral wines but I don’t like to say mineral. It is this special tension, special texture that you get from these soils which presents itself in Cantina Terlano’s wines. We don’t have high acidity like you get from Rieslings from Germany, or Chardonnay from Chablis, but there is this almost saltiness you get, which lifts the wines, bringing freshness and great balance. Traditionally Alto-Adige wines were vinified very simply, and though in the past we tried to experiment with differing vinification techniques, we always came back to tradition and a very simple style of vinification. Because the great thing about Alto Adige is the terroir. This means, classic fermentations, no macerations, we only use large, used oak casks (some over 40 years old), for a very subtle oak influence on the wines. Keeping to a very clear, clean and simple style which expresses the result of our terroir.
Aged bottles from Terlano
Klaus: Our growers were less affected, they went on cultivating their vineyard's day to day, with little impact to their working lives. It looks to be a very good vintage! The stress really fell on us, as to how to navigate the pandemic and sell these wines. Because of their power and texture, Cantina Terlano wines are made for restaurants, and so in Italy for example 80% of our customers are restaurants. You can imagine what that meant for us during the pandemic.
We worked all the time, I was in the office every day, it was not easy. We had calmed down but my focus was not to lose energy, not to become deflated or let my team either. Keep talking, keep moving, keep in touch, with our customers and importers - a lot of Zoom meetings and tastings! But we are fortunate in that we have a strong brand and reputation. And rather than drinking our wines in restaurants, consumers started drinking them at home. For this we are so grateful, this really helped us a lot!
"Because of their power and texture, Cantina Terlano wines are made for restaurants, and so in Italy for example 80% of our customers are restaurants. You can imagine what that meant for us during the pandemic."
Klaus: Yes, I studied as an Oenologist and then I travelled and worked for 6 years in Germany. I grew up 10km from Cantina Terlano so when I returned to Alto-Adige, I bumped into an old school friend who was working here. He said “Klaus, why don’t you come and help us during harvest this year?”, wanting to re-connect with old friends and spend a little time at home I thought, why not, I will help out for one harvest at Cantina Terlano. That was the 15th June 1994 and I am still here! I can actually remember exactly the moment that hooked me, the cellar was full of old dusty wine bottles and I thought, oh my gosh look at that gunk. However one day we decided to do a tasting of 50 wines from 1955 to 1993. It blew my mind! An incredible experience. At that moment I saw the potential of this amazing terroir. This was the pivotal moment for me at Terlano, the reason I am still here.
"He said 'Klaus, why don’t you come and help us during harvest this year?', wanting to re-connect with old friends and spend a little time at home I thought, why not, I will help out for one harvest at Cantina Terlano. That was the 15th June 1994..."
Klaus Gasser, Director of Sales & Marketing, Cantina Terlano
There were tough times too, especially in the 90’s, back when Terlano was very small. I had a vision for Terlano and could see the winery’s potential but I had to fight to push the cooperative in a certain direction, even against the bosses, I was a “persona non grata” (trouble maker)! In most other cooperatives then and also today, grapes are most often purchased according to weight and sugar content. We stepped away from this an opted for a quality concept that would help our growers thrive. A precise system which includes making sure the growers keep yields very low. Which was particularly beneficial to the growers high up in the mountains, for whom it’s more challenging, this keeps them in business and they make incredible quality grapes. That was revolutionary, I believe we are the only cooperative in Europe to have this system, where we know the origin of every grape that goes into to every wine.
"I was a 'persona non grata' (a trouble maker)!"
The Cantina Terlano winery
Klaus: I have four kids, not yet, but we shall see! My eldest two have gone into medicine and engineering but I have a ten-year-old and six-year-old. I would never pressure them to in any way. But of course they have grown-up drinking very good wine and eating very good food!
Klaus: Like with the wine, the region is small but the quality is concentrated. We are lucky to have many amazing restaurants, in fact we have 28 Michelin stars here in Alto Adige. The cuisine very much follows that cross-cultural influence I talked about earlier. Historically we used a lot of cream and butter, now we have swapped it for olive oil. And of course, being Italian, we have many local pasta dishes, but these have German names like Schlutzkrapfen.
"Like with the wine, the region is small but the quality is concentrated."
Surrounded by mountains and forests, a lot of our local ingredients our sourced from here; game, mountain herbs, mushrooms. Herbal/green flavours pair really well with Sauvignon Blanc like Winkl or Quarz, like there are these local dumplings we make from spinach, herbs and stale bread. We eat a lot of deer and leaner meats which are very good for pairing with Pinot Noir like Monticol. And the sea is not too far so we also have many sea fish dishes. An elegant fish soup is a beautiful match for Pinot Bianco Vorberg.
Mountain views from some of Terlano's contributing vineyards
Klaus: There is so much to do, so much to discover! The dolomites, the fantastic mountains, it is a beautiful area for skiing and hiking.
Firstly, we would drive from Bolzano to Seis/Siusi and take the cable car up to Alpe di Siusi. Here we would hike through the mountains to get to a Baita (the local name for a trattoria), because in Italy we say: “to get a little bit hungry - you must walk a little bit”. There is this amazing Baita called Rauchhütte, which a stunning view of the dolomites. They serve up traditional, local cuisine. It is a fantastic place!
"In Italy we say: 'to get a little bit hungry - you must walk a little bit'."
Of course, I wouldn’t let you come to Alto Adige without visiting Cantina Terlano so that would be next on the agenda. A tour and tasting at the winery and then we would head up the mountain to visit a few of our vineyards. From here we can take a cable car again but this time to Reischach/Riscone (a little more hiking – to get a little more hungry) where I will take you to AlpiNN. The second restaurant from 3 Michelin starred chef Norbert Niederkofler, the theme of which is ‘Cook the mountain’, sourcing local produce and transforming ingredients into creative dishes celebrating mountain cuisine. Not only is the food incredible but the restaurant walls are completely made of glass, giving you a panoramic view of the whole of Alto-Adige and beyond.
Klaus: Phwoar! How many wines can I take, just one!? That is difficult. Very, very difficult. You know I love Bordeaux, I love Burgundy, I love wine. I can never say just one wine. But if I had to had to choose, I guess I would take a case of Cheval Blanc 1947 with me.
"You know I love Bordeaux, I love Burgundy, I love wine. I can never say just one wine."
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