We are excited to have recently been appointed the UK agent for two outstanding Italian wineries: Alto Adige’s Kellerei St Pauls and Sicily’s Assuli winery, both of which are thriving under the direction of their highly skilled and knowledgable winemakers.

Wolfgang Tratter brings a wealth of experience and passion to St Pauls, fusing traditional winemaking techniques with modern cellar technology, and the cooperative is going from strength to strength having just picked up several Gold and Silver DWWA medals. Assuli’s winemaker Lorenzo Landi is considered one of Italy’s finest winemakers, having produced over 150 Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri wines and was named 2017 Winemaker of the Year by highly respected Daniele Cernilli, “Doctor Wine”.

C&C’s Portfolio Ambassador, Peter McCombie MW speaks to both to get under the skin of their expertise…

Wolfgang Tratter – Kellerei St Pauls, Alto Adige

Q: South Tyrol has an interesting history over the past century. As a German-speaking Italian do you think your winemaking culture is Italian, Germanic or a hybrid of the two?

A: The winemaking culture is bonded to territory, soils and climate. Despite the history of Alto Adige or any other territory, these are most important characterising elements for all local winemaking cultures, which are influenced by climate change.

Q: I’ve always enjoyed the freshness and subtlety of Alto Adige wines and it seems easy to characterise them as “mountain” wines. Is that too easy, or is it a useful way of describing them?

A: Alto Adige is a very mountainous region, and this implies that soils and temperature change significantly at every height. Our wines are correctly characterised as mountain wines, but this is both because Alto Adige has the potential to react to climate change and because vineyards at high altitude create our hallmark wines: fresh and juicy. This “race to the top” can be sustainable and lasting only by a scrupulous land and vineyard management routine including canopy management and green manure.

Q: We say ‘Alto Adige’ or ‘South Tyrol’ wines, which implies a certain distinct regional style; would you say there is such a thing?

A: Thanks to a precise production management and very low production quantity, Alto Adige’s regional style is all about quality.

Q: St Paul is proud of its diverse vineyards, can you tell me about some of them and how they affect the wines you produce from them?

A: The variety of our vineyards reflects the variety of our production. Each variety grows on its favourite soil, is cared for and vinified keeping in mind the soil, variety and climate.

Q: Pinot Bianco is a grape that is arguably not taken very seriously in many places outside of Alto Adige. Does it perform better in Alto Adige? What does Pinot Bianco from St Paul have to offer us?

A: As a leading grape variety, Pinot Bianco is very important for Alto Adige and its history. This variety easily adapts to many types of slopes and soils and that’s why it suits St. Paul’s multi-faceted terroirs so well.

Q: There are three Pinot Biancos in the range, each with different vineyard origins, can you explain how the sites impact each wine? Each wine sees large oak only. Can you explain why?

A: The grapes of our three different Pinot Biancos come from vines with different ages and soils and are located at different heights. For example, our Kalkberg Pinot Bianco 2019 is produced with grapes coming from vines from 30 to 50 years old, while our Plötzner comes from a vineyard at 700m above sea level. Our Sanctissimus has its very own history, and its vineyard was recorded for the first time by the end of 19th century. The vinification for each of them includes large oaks because it allows us to make the most of each grape, independently from the vine age, soil and climate.

Q: Sanctissimus also ages in amphorae. Is this merely fashionable or does it have a discernible effect?

A: Sanctissimus is for us a priceless fortune and we are grateful that such old vines are still productive. The yield of this vineyard is very low and the vinification is intended to have as little impact as possible. In order to preserve its real potential and to bring it into the bottle, the maceration and ageing in amphorae is essential. Clay is a natural porous material that allows a constant micro-oxidation without adding tannins to the wine.

Q: Cooperatives do not always enjoy great reputations, although it must be said they generally do in Alto Adige; how does making wine for a cooperative affect your work?

A: We see our cooperative as a big family business. The community of St. Pauls is very dense and close to its winery and each member wants to deliver the best product possible also because winegrowing is a traditional and a very important community element. Our winegrowers get consulting and advice all year round from our experienced and competent winery team. This strict and positive cooperation is what makes cooperatives in Alto Adige, and so also St. Pauls, ambassadors of very high-quality wines.

Lorenzo Landi – Assuli, Sicily

Q: Can you describe the area where Assuli is found? 

A: The area where Assuli is located is naturally quite hot and moderately rainy, like most areas of western Sicily. However, both of these climatic characteristics, temperatures and rain, are not extreme, but maintain a good balance so that ripening is not too early, the concentration of the grapes is particularly good but not excessive and the characteristics of freshness, both aromatic and acidic, are maintained, which is uncommon in other hot areas. These latter characteristics are also favoured by the calcareous soils in the area, which allow acidity to be maintained and delay ripening by having it take place at lower temperatures and in the absence of water stress. Of course, on Monte Scorace the lower temperatures and the greater availability of water allow even more vertical and fresh wines to be obtained, naturally with a slightly lower oily sensation and concentration.

Q: You are clear that you want to make authentic Sicilian wines, showcasing indigenous varieties as varietal wines, but also reflecting the terroir of the region. Is it possible to separate the varietal characters from those acquired from the terroir?

A: I don’t think we can easily separate the characteristics of the terroir from those of the varietals. The varieties must be at the service of the terroir in the sense that they must be chosen in such a way as to allow the terroir to express itself. Not all varieties allow this, for example most of the international ones, ripening too early and with too high temperatures, they lose their characteristics and do not allow the terroir to express its originality. The autochthonous varieties, on the other hand, more tardive, maintain their characteristics and at the same time allow the terroir to express itself. So, variety and territory go hand in hand, enhancing each other.

Q: Can you describe the archetypal Assuli expression of Nero d’Avola, Zibibbo, Insolia, Lucido, Grillo and Perricone?

A: For all these vines, the Assuli expression is that of its area and therefore a balance between concentration and energy, trying to make the most of the aromatic components of the varietal and territory.

Q: Can you describe the terroirs that best suit each variety?

A: The white varieties, and in particular the Grillo, require cooler microclimates, such as that of Monte Scorace, and highly calcareous soils where the components of acidity and energy are enhanced. For the red varieties, and in particular for the Perricone, slightly warmer microclimates are needed.

Q: Your vineyard work has been described as meticulous; how does it impact on terroir expression? Is decision-making a response to the terroir or an attempt to ‘guide’ it?

A: Everything we do in the vineyards aims to look after and protect the terroir and allow it to express itself. Nothing is done to force the terroir in a direction that is different from its natural vocation, or at least from what we believe to be its natural vocation. The vineyard requires man’s work, and we believe that the true “naturalness” lies in doing things that protect nature and not in limiting the scope of the work itself to a minimum. Therefore, a qualitative rather than quantitative naturalness. Of course, all this requires an interpretation of the natural vocation of the land which is not easy and requires constant attention from all the people involved.

Q: Do organic methods have an influence on terroir and authenticity or are they just good in themselves, as a way of respecting our environment?

A: Organic methods are above all a means of respecting the land and the people who work on it. In this way, the expression of the terroir can also be improved, but the most important effect is certainly the previous one.

Q: Are indigenous grapes better suited to the challenges of climate change?

A: Indigenous varieties are certainly more suitable in supporting climate change. In fact, historically native varieties are tardive and delayed ripening is the best way to lower the temperature of the grapes, thus trying to counteract the climatic warming that leads to increasingly precocious ripening. 

Q: Like many wine producers you respect innovation and tradition. Do the historic traditions of Marsala, for which the area was traditionally known have any relevance to you today?

A: The tradition of Marsala is still especially important now, both for the grapes that have been selected for its production and which are still fundamental today, and for some aspects of winemaking such as, for example, the use of large barrels which is certainly qualitatively better than the small ones and barriques.

Q: What are the challenges (viticultural and/or winemaking) you face working in Sicily, compared to those you might face in Tuscany?

A: I believe that the most important challenge is that of global warming both in Sicily and in Tuscany. To this we must add the fact that, in the last thirty years, changes have been made in viticulture that have further emphasized climate warming. I believe that in each area we need to reflect a lot on what is the best way to face the future of viticulture from this point of view. This aspect is especially important and interesting, but it would require a long discussion which, if you are interested, we could do at a later date.