For our 2020 writing competition, Jessica Weatherbee's entry begins with this introduction, 'Jessica Weatherbee is a professional sommelier in Toronto, Canada. Having a passion for wine and a thirst for learning, Jessica plans to continue her studies with a focus on cool-climate winemaking.' Many more stories about sustainability heroes can be found via the competition guide.
With fifty-three Astro maps positioned throughout the vineyard and winery, the focus for Aloïs Lageder is to be in sync with the cosmos and earth.
In the cellar, the music of Bach is slowed down and piped over the casks. The harmony and calmness are meant to remind you this process is slow and delicate. Everything has its time and place; nothing is rushed at this northern Italian, Trentino-Alto Adige winery.
With a two-hundred-year history in wine, the current caretakers of the family business are leading the example of biodynamic farming.
As far back as the 1970s, Aloïs Lageder IV and his family emphasized a focus on quality and innovations in both the vineyard and the winery. Drawing inspiration by natural agriculture and the principles of Rudolf Steiner, the Lageder family began their shift from conventional farming in the 1990s. As of 2004, the entirety of their fifty-hectare vineyard are farmed using the principals of biodynamics.
As Aloïs IV points out, ‘biodynamic farming allows you to use all the natural forces to your advantage, to build or create the balance needed for agriculture.’ This balance is the foundation of harmony: not just in the vineyard, but in the glass.
Every aspect of the wine making process at Aloïs Lageder has been brought back to the earth and cosmos. In 1995, the winery at Estate Tòr Löwengang was rebuilt using only natural materials; no synthetic materials were allowed, only wood and stone. Rather than jutting out in contrast to the natural world surrounding the winery, the warm and porous materials let the space breathe and exist in harmony with that world.
Today, the Lageder winery achieves a carbon-neutral footprint with innovations like the seventeen-foot deep ‘Vinification Tower’. The tower utilizes the natural force of gravity to process grapes without the use of pumps or mechanical transportation. Solar power, ground water, and geothermal energies are used to provide power, heat, and irrigation without the use of harmful fossil fuels.
Both the winery and cellar benefit from natural acclimatization courtesy of a large natural rock wall formation. The cooling effect of the rock keeps the area 10–12 degrees cooler, giving the cellar a pleasing natural cave-like feel, where the wines can slowly mature while enjoying the strains of classical music.
The organic-certified restaurant at the Vineria Paradeis sources from both their own vegetable garden as well from their partnership with local farmers. Chef Alessandro Miragoli has a focus on regional, seasonal dishes centring on the prized vegetables rather than meats, bringing the winery into rhythm with the cycles of the plants in the garden and vineyard.
While the winery has benefited from the thought and care of the Lageder family, the vineyard is the family’s true crown jewel. Using natural preparations for vineyard management and crop health, the family gives as much back as they take from the land they cultivate so carefully and with such respect. Alois Lageder considers plant life as complex as that of a human being, so they treat the plants the way they treat themselves.
Walking through the vineyard in the autumn and winter, you are greeted by cattle, sheep and other alpine dwellers brought down to graze on the twenty different kinds of cover crop planted between the rows of vines.
Avoiding a monoculture in the vineyard was an early project for the Lageder family. They recognized from the beginning that soil and vines benefit from a variety of nutrients, so the cover crop consists of flowers, grasses, oats, and legumes. Once the cover has sprouted and bloomed, whatever the grazers leave behind gets tilled back into the soil. The grazers contribute to the compost, making it even richer.
The relationship between flora and fauna is as natural here as in the alpine pastures these dairy cows usually graze. Through collaboration with local dairy farmers, an organic meat industry based on the native cattle, previously undervalued and exported, was developed.
Today, Aloïs Lageder works with over 80 regional contract growers, expressing different grapes and terroir of Alto Adige. While not all their growing partners are organic or biodynamic, the Lageders offer help and encouragement to make the switch.
The experimentation with grape varietals and terroir is an important principle to the Lageder family. Recognizing climate change will be a driving factor in maintaining quality, the search for balance is unending. The grapes, and the sites where they are grown, are a reflection of tradition and hope for what the future of wines from Alto Adige can express.
In early autumn, as the animals return from the mountains and the leaves have started to change colours, harvest is done by hand. The darling of the region, Pinot Grigio is vinified alongside other native grapes, as well as French, Swiss and German varietals. The incorporation of atypical varietals to the region is a chance for education about and experimentation with the resilience of these grapes, as well as the wines they can produce.
The Lageder family’s desire to reduce their environmental impact while still maintaining a hands-on approach is tangible in the product you receive. Every label for the ‘Comet’ bottles is hand-painted with a swipe of the thumb. This bright shining comet that pierces the sky is part of the influence which brought that wine to fruition, and serves as a timely reminder that everything is temporary, and to savour life and good wine in equal measure.
The wines produced by Alois Lageder and his family embody a quest for knowledge, the curiosity of youth, the responsibility of tradition, and a vow to care for the earth.
With guidance from the cosmos, and the recognition of their responsibility as farmers to the land they till, the Lageder family is dedicated to making the best wine the earth can produce, and sharing it with the world.