Wine cooperatives play a key role in many regions around the world. Quality levels are all over the board but not in Alto Adige where they are the exception.
Colterenzio is one such winery cooperative north of Bolzano in Appiano, the capital of the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) wine region in northern Italy. While many stand alone wineries exist here, cooperatives work with smaller producers giving them a more affordable way to process their grapes and make wine.
February is about cooperative wineries throughout Italy and the Italian Food, Wine, Travel group, aka #ItalianFWT, is here to share them with you. Scroll down to see a list of wine writers and the cooperatives they feature! Our host this month is Kevin from Snarky Wine.
The summer of 2017 researching Italian alpine wines I found Colterenzio. Intrigued by their operation I contacted them for information and to purchase wine. They supplied both and I wrote this article about the wines tasted.
The fall of 2019 a friend said let’s go traveling. Our determined meeting place was Bolzano where the first winery I contacted was Colterenzio. They graciously worked with me scheduling a visit with Sales Director Alex Ferrigato.
Alto Adige is a land of contrasts: high mountains, prosperous valleys with a variety of trees (apple, olives, palm), grape vines, snow and cold, and very warm almost Mediterranean-like areas. To the north, the Alps cradle the area protecting it from cold winds. And that sunshine! About 300 days a year along with wide diurnal temperature shifts and an average summer temperature of 18 degrees celsius.
Several microclimates and soils exist. For example, the Colterenzio hamlet (Colterenzio is also the name of a very small town or hamlet) sits on a plateau in the southern half of Alto Adige. Looking down from there you see a wavy effect to the hills caused by a glacier centuries ago. There is a unique microclimate between them where night temperatures drop allowing grapes to preserve acidity. Soils around this hamlet are acid moraine and volcanic porphyry. However the opposite side of the valley, just 6 kilometers away, soils are completely different: limestone and dolomite. This allows a wide range of grapes to be grown, both indigenous to the area and also international varieties.
Why Cooperative Wineries Exist in Alto Adige
Cooperative wineries are not new to this region. The first were established in 1893 in the towns of Andrian, Terlan, and Neumarkt. Today there are twelve.
There’s not a lot of vineyard land in Alto Adige- much of it is on hillsides with varying degrees of slope that are passed on within the same family. The average Alto Adige grower cultivates less than one hectare (two and a half acres) of grapes! For a family to grow the grapes and produce, market and sell the wine requires more than just knowledge and equipment. For this reason many of them work with cooperatives. Here is the breakdown of wine production in Alto Adige:
- forty million bottles of wine produced annually
- about 70% originates from cooperative wineries
- 25% from estate wineries
- 5% from independent winegrowers
The Alto Adige Association of Winery Cooperatives describes the relationship between coops and grape growers perfectly:
“The form of the cooperative makes the survival possible of nearly 3,200 families in winegrowing through sustainable economic activity, continuing education, joint marketing, and technological innovation which an individual winegrower could never carry out all alone.”
The Colterenzio Winery Vineyards
300 hectares of vines are grown around the Colterenzio hamlet and from Bolzano south to Caldero by 300 members of the Winery, 77 of which are women.
Ten percent of the vineyards are organic, with the remaining farms practicing sustainable methods, a key priority for the coop. Herbicides aren’t used, growers preferring to work the soil and use cover crops although slope steepness can present a challenge. Some use a minimum of pesticides but the agronomists are working with them on implementing beneficial techniques used by their organic farmers versus pesticides.
Eppan Berg / Appiano Mountain is considered one of the best areas for Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco).
A Family Team
Colterenzio is a team model where each grower is a member of the cooperative family team and not a supplier. The Colterenzio management team (of which Alex is a member) plays an essential role in helping the grower members. The team is broken into sales and marketing, administration, and production and winery. Having a quality mindset is essential to the success of the operation.
We’ve all heard good wine is made in the vineyard not in the cellar. As such, Agronomists are on staff within the production and winery group to support the growers. This includes determining quality standards together with the grower then helping them evaluate and maintain the standards through careful monitoring. At harvest, the cooperative is not the buyer of last resort. Members bring all their grapes to the cooperative and are devoted to the success of the entire operation.
This model focusing on quality that starts in the vineyard works especially well in Alto Adige. It’s similar to a chef in her/his kitchen. The chef works with the people growing and producing products to convey the quality needed. These products are delivered then with the help of staff and tools, ingredients are transformed into plated, high quality dishes. Every person plays a part in determining the success of the operation.
On Climate Change – Alex shared they are seeing an increase of both hail and severe weather events in the area.
On Harvest – It’s a long harvest. Picking varies from the end of August to the end of October.
On Energy Use – Every winery building is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels. They produce 55% of the energy they consume and 70% of the warm water used for cleaning.
On Land Costs – The average cost of a hectare (2.2 acres) is from 700,000 to 1,000,000€ in Alto Adige!
A Variety of Wines
We tasted several starting with 2018 Classic Pinot Grigio, the most important variety for their export market. While there’s a plethora of less than desirable Pinot Grigio on the market, their ‘Classic’ represents a fresh and finessed wine with a bright and elegant body.
While still quite young, aromas on this 2018 Lagrein were medium-plus intensity blackberry, violet, cinnamon and cocoa nibs. A noteworthy structure and soft yet present acidity mean this wine will not only age well but also pair nicely with a variety of foods. I’ll reach for hard, aged cheeses, pasta with tomato-based sauces, meats and stews, and vegetarian bean dishes.
The show stopper was the Lafoa Chardonnay. Grapes are from selected vineyards on cooler sites at an average altitude of 1,600 feet (500 meters). Fermented in new and used barrels where partial malolactic fermentation took place. It aged on lees for ten months with regular battonage (stirring) then sat an additional six months in bottle before release.
What is remarkable about this wine is the harmony of concentration, freshness, and subtle energetic drive. It shows medium intensity notes of yellow apple, less ripe pear, coconut, green melon, and non-sweet vanilla crème drizzled with fresh lemon. The full-body is fresh, the medium acidity soft yet exuberant, and a minute long finish.
In closing, if interested in learning more about cooperative wineries in verdant Alto Adige, I highly recommend a visit to Colterenzio. The tasting room will welcome you just 15 minutes north of Bolzano. They roll serious yet casual, friendly and accommodating. It’s easy to roll up your sleeves and taste their very nice wines. And heck, if you’re lucky enough to meet one of their member growers, you might be able to roll in the vineyard!
Colterenzio Winery Milestones and Information:
- Founded in 1960 with 26 growers.
- 1980s – The company made pioneering changes from standard mass-produced wines to quality wines. The president then, Luis Raifer (from 1979 to 2010) started the journey believing the region could produce world-class wines. He was a change maker introducing a shift from the indigenous grape Schiava (80% of vineyard plantings) to international and other indigenous varieties, made a change from the traditional pergola vine training system to Guyot, and implemented various other quality standards.
- 1989 – the first “Lafoa” teroir wine came onto the market.
- Their black tower logo comes from the historic Firmiano castle tower. It’s a sense of place, a connection to the territory and village of Appiano where the Colterenzio hamlet resides. This village has the largest number of castles in all of Alto Adige!
- Top export markets are Germany, Russia, and the United States.
- In California they work with importer Grape Expectations (IG @grapexwine )
Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group Features Cooperative Wineries of Italy #ItalianFWT
Wine Cooperatives are immensely helpful to producers. Learn more about them from our members this month and tune into our Twitter chat Saturday, February 1 at 17:00 in France and Italy, and 11am eastern time using hashtag #ItalianFWT:
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “On Wine Co-ops, Sicily’s Cantine Settesoli and Mandrarossa Winery“
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Celebrate Chinese New Year, Observe Italian wine coop evolution, OMG yummy Prosecco!”
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures shares “Cincinnato – A Cooperative in Lazio Focused on Native Grapes“
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Prosecco, coop-style: What do these tasters say?”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Popping the Corks on Cooperative Prosecco”
- Marcia at Joy of Wine shares “Cooperetiva Produttori del Barbaresco“
- Jen at Vino Travels Italy shares “Italian Wine Cooperatives with Prosecco from Val d’Oca”
- Liz at What’s in That Bottle shares “What’s Up with Italian Wine Cooperatives?“
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Godendo Aperitivo Prima di Cena “
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Alpine Wine Cooperative – How Things Roll in Alto Adige“
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Visiting Lake Garda through the wines of Cantina Colli Morenici”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “The Italian Wine Cooperative Surprise“
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Hardworking Kids, Fresh Pasta, and a Red Wine from Vallevò“
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator matches ” 3 Bottles of Bubbles from Italy’s Val D’Oca Paired with Butternut Crab Bisque and Polenta Shrimp“
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “The History of Amarone at Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, and Domìni Veneti Amarone Classico with Decadent, Braised Lamb Shanks“
For more information about, and visiting Alto Adige, go to the Alto Adige Wine Road website.
What a great idea turning the bike into a movable stool for working on the vines. What a great time you must have had on your tour.
Yes I loved the bike, a brilliant idea I’d never seen!
What great information on the role of cooperatives in Alto Adige. This post shows how it’s really a matter of survival for these families and grape growers. But at the same time, we consumers are the beneficiaries. And how about that Lafoa label – gorgeous!
Yes that label! The central part depicts a bronze sculpture column by sculptor Guido Anton Muss. It represents the natural forces which govern the growth of plants- humus and earthly forces convey in the central part of the column to open up to the sun. And the background is inspired by Art Nouveau.
I’m always jealous of your European wine travel, Lynn! Great to know about this winery – if I ever encounter their wines in the U.S., I won’t hesitate to try them. It looks like a gorgeous location, too. Cheers, friend!
I am thankful indeed. Colterenzio would welcome you Liz! You can find some of their wines in the states, keep your eyes out!
I love Colterenzio wines! Their Lagrein was a huge favourite for me, but unfortunately, the importers decided not to bring it in anymore, as there not enough geeks like me out there to be able to sell the stuff! And their Pinot Grigio I sell as “proper” PG – Suditrol, Alto-Adige PG’s in that mountainous region makes not just everyday PG – it’s always got racy acidity and a more complexity than the average Pinot Grigio. Thanks for sharing this!
Well how cool is that, you sell their wines! I was amazed at the number of different wines they actually produce, many small production. Hope you’re able to visit them someday.
3 ***! (stars). Great share and huge value. I love learning about these cool niches within the wine world. There’s so much more to learn about it than what’s written about in the mainstream..
And now I hope you’re able to find and taste some of these excellent wines, cheers!
Such an informative post and sounds like a great visit. I’ve always loved that Lafa label. It definitely let’s you know it’s a show stopper.
Thanks Nicole, yes the label a bit Gustav Klimt like!
It was fascinating to see how the conditions in Alto Adige at the turn of the century made the coops inevitable.
It certainly was, survival and the strength of working together1
Interesting post highlighting Colterenzio and the Alto Adige Assoc.of Winery Cooperatives. They are on my destination list and will watch for their wines here in the states.
Although you cannot get the full range in the states, you can find several. Let me know if you taste any Jane!
Interesting article! Alto Adige is such a beautiful region. I lived in Bolzano for a couple of months about 20 years ago. Unfortunately I wasn’t into wine then yet. These amazing landscapes sure put me in a mood to go back there!
Thanks for your comment Olivier. I feel the same about Alto Adige and hope you get back to enjoy the wine!
Love the bike he uses for harvesting. It’s great to highlight and educate of cooperatives, especially in a quality region like Alto Adige.
How about that bike?!? Several great producers highlighted this #ItalianFWT month for sure ;-D