Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hunting in Italy

(Not a story about taking potshots at North Italian fauna; rather the Bibendum "Hunting Team"'s exploits in the Alto Adige, Veneto and Valpolicella.)

Alto Adige - Day One
What a welcome sight it was to see our host for the day Urs Vetter (pictured), sitting on the wall ready to welcome us into the courtyard of the idyllic winery of Alois Lageder. Not sure if it was as welcome a sight for him to see a 14 strong group of Bibendumites eager to experience Lageder.

After refreshing our spirits with an aperitif of 2005 Gewurztraminer we settled down to lunch to enjoy the very local and very seasonal produce. Before a proper look at the entire line-up of the latest vintage we needed to understand more about the Trentino Alto Adige region. Urs led us into the vineyard, passionately explaining why he believes the unique soils, topography and micro-climate of the valley result in some of the finest white wines in Italy. The tasting that followed confirmed what he was talking about. Looking back at my notes there are certain words that are repeated: finesse… freshness…purity…elegance..., but certain wines stood out: Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio puts to shame a great slew of Pinot Grigio wine available in the UK. (In the evening we were to be treated to the same wine from the 2001 vintage and it is unbelievable how vibrant and clean it still is).The seductive minerality and mouthfeel of Haberlehof Pinot Bianco 2005 (AKA The Hof) makes it easy to understand why in Italy, this variety is more valued than its poor cousin Pinot Grigio. The indigenous Lagrein Rosato 2005 re-affirmed its position as the mother’s milk of Bibendumites.
We had to see where these wines are made so Urs guided us down the gravity-led, bio-sustainable winery which was completed in 1996 as a response to the very real effects of climate change on viticulture. Space here doesn’t permit me the luxury of singing from the rooftops about this wine making facility. Alois Lageder has taken a visionary lead in creating a natural and healthy environment for both man and wine. Strangely, this is expressed in all of his wines.

Visit over, and the group settled into the hotel. Now, we all welcome a bit of team bonding but the matrimonial beds in the double rooms were a step too far and having requested a slight bed re-arrangement we headed off to meet Alois and Urs for dinner. Again, seasonality and freshness was the order of the day for the food. Locally hunted deer (aha! it is a piece about hunting - Ed) and line-caught fish from nearby Alpine streams were complimented by some of Alois’ library stock of wine. Conversation then led to what interests Alois outside of work. He loves contemporary art and aside from heading up the executive board at Bolzano’s Institute of Modern Art he has been involved in a lengthy stand off with Italian bureaucracy to convert a defunct dinosaur of a building into a playground for home grown contemporary artists. This passion extends back into the winery where selected artists have been part of a project to integrate objects and installations into the fabric of the wine making process…and yes the maturing barriques are treated to the sound of JS Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg Concerto that fills the cellars with a meditative atmosphere!

The evening was rounded off by a surprise game of “Guess Who?” (copyright The Horn) whereby Ms LT and HS produced secretly obtained photographs of the team in their infancy. Needless to say this led to a variety of responses from gasping disbelief to shuddering embarrassment…and plenty of guffawing.

One of the reasons why Lageder’s wines have such phenomenal success is down to the personality and passion of Urs and Alois and how they carry that on their travels: they get on planes and spread the word. We left the winery the next morning thinking that for a change, it had been a great privilege to return the compliment of the visit.


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