Alois Lageder is focused on biodynamic farming, setting themselves apart with experimentation and innovation.
Alois Lageder Winery in Alto Adige is holistically committed to biodynamic farming. A family-owned winery, they are champions of organic and biodynamic farming. They are raising awareness and bringing about an impactful change in their region. Together with their partners and community they continuously seek to improve the land and their surroundings. They regard agriculture as a living organism, and their goals are to maintain nature as a habitat for future generations.
Alto Adige is located in far northern Italy, bordering Austria and Switzerland. A region best known for the beauty of its peaks and altitudes and the magnificent Dolomites, Alto Adige is one of Italy’s best cool-climate wine-growing regions. Due to its remoteness, you do not find trendy wines, but rather winemakers and growers that are authentic and real. Alois Lageder is one of those wineries that are growing biodynamically not because it is a trend, but because it is a deep-rooted passion and an ingrained way of life.
The history of Alois Lageder dates back to 1823 when Johann Lageder established himself as a wine merchant. Future generations went on to acquire land and produce wine. The idea of biodynamic farming was first ignited by Alois Lageder IV, who pushed the winery to high standards of quality and environmental responsibility. With passion, dedication, and commitment, the winery began experimenting with organic and biodynamic farming in the mid-’90s. By 2004 the winery was certified as biodynamic.
Conversations With Alois Clemens Lageder
Today Alois IV, alongside his son Alois Clemens Lageder and his daughter Helena are at the helm of the winery. I had the opportunity to ask Clemens Lageder(6th generation) about his philosophy, biodynamic practices, and The COMET wines.
Me – Alois Lageder is a family winery that has a long history in Alto Adige. Is it tradition that has bought the winery success – or has it been experimentation and modernization?
Alois Clemens Lageder – I think it is a combination of tradition and innovation. Innovation has always run like a continuous thread through our daily work, and we draw on tradition as our inspiration for future development – there is no tradition without innovation and vice versa.
Me – Please share your biodynamic process with us. What measures do you implement in the vineyards and the cellars? How have you been able to impact/influence the region in terms of organic and biodynamic farming?
Alois Clemens Lageder – We are working without chemicals and synthetic products for plant protection, i.e. herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and mineral fertilizers, and making use of the biodynamic preparations and homeopathic infusions instead. We promote biodiversity by sowing ground cover plants and planting shrubs, introducing animals into the vineyards, and fertilizing the soil with compost. We collaborate with mountain farmers who bring their cows and sheep to the winery’s vineyards during the autumn and winter months, which follows the old tradition of transhumance. All these measures lead to improved soil quality and vine fertility. Our objective, always, is to develop and maintain a natural cycle. In the cellar, we work under the strict principles of Demeter Italia.
In addition to the family-owned vineyards, we work together with 80 winegrowing partners from all over Alto Adige and from whom we source grapes. We try to motivate them to implement organic and biodynamic agriculture through coaching and personal advice, but never through forcing them. Everyone must decide for themselves which way of farming they prefer. Today more than 50% of the partner vineyards are already cultivated organically or biodynamically. Our goal is a complete conversion to organic and biodynamic cultivation within the next few years, but we know that this requires time and patience. This is also the biggest challenge in our winery: not how the vines are faring due to biodynamic agriculture, but rather how to look at the same vineyard from a different perspective and motivate our employees and our partners to do it as well.
Me – After years of farming organically and biodynamically – What benefits/impact are you seeing today?
Alois Clemens Lageder – We have observed that the biodynamic methods have had a positive influence on soil structure, plant growth, plant health, and on the quality of the wine. We have cows and sheep grazing in the vineyards from September until April. The manure from these animals helps build up more humus in the soil and thus increases fertility. This means that there are more worms, which in turn attracts more birds. We also have an increase in the variety of flowering herbs found within the vineyards. You feel, see and smell that there is life in the vineyards. This, in turn, is reflected in the character of the wines, we perceive an increase in vitality, freshness, precision, and tension.
Me – What was the inspiration for The COMET wines? Please comment on the inspiration, label, and significance of the name.
Alois Clemens Lageder – These wines are all about experimentation and innovation. Some experiments are successful, some are not. However, the COMET wines always help us learn something new about winemaking and consistently work on the quality of our wines, keeping in mind changing climatic conditions.
That’s why they are called COMETS: Comets flash by, leave a trail, and burn out. Some last for years, others just a few seconds. They can light a path to guide us in what we do every day. COMETS influences our work. Some burn up and are rejected, while others become stars and an integral part of our assortment.
We are experimenting with exotic grape varieties, all of which are atypical for the Alto Adige region, rediscovering forgotten native varieties and trying out old, traditional vinification methods.
Every COMET is unique, just like a fingerprint, and the labels on every single bottle have been made by hand: the tail of a comet painted on with a finger.
These experiments can be traced back to the 80s when my father Alois Lageder started cultivating exotic grape varieties in Alto Adige in response to the latest climate models. For example, he planted Tannat, which is better adapted to warm temperatures. This variety remains part of our experiments in the vineyard and cellar, and also has made up the bulk of the CASÒN Rosso Cuvee since 2017.
Me – Are there any new grape varieties that have been planted more recently – that are now thriving in Alto Adige??
Alois Clemens Lageder – As mentioned above, our father planted exotic grape varieties in Alto Adige, starting as early as the mid-1980s, due to the changing climate. Our goal is to keep a certain level of freshness in our wines. There are several ways to deal with the rising temperatures, in agriculture as well as in the cellar.
In agriculture, we can use higher altitudes, where it is cooler, but we have to be careful not to bring monocultures to a higher elevation, where we still have a natural landscape. That’s why, beginning 30 years ago, we started to concern ourselves with new grape varieties and how best to cultivate them in the region. Our goal was to determine if they were suitable for higher average temperatures and extreme weather conditions.
We planted varieties from the southern wine-growing regions of Europe which we believed would – when cultivated here – result in higher levels of acidity and moderate sugar contents. These varieties included, for example, Viognier, Tannat and Petit Manseng. However, we were also searching for varieties generally characterized by loose clusters and thick skins, making them less susceptible to disease even given extreme and fluctuating weather conditions, and at the same time displayed both high acid levels and lower sugar contents. Such varieties include, e.g., Chenin Blanc and Manzoni Bianco.
Another way to deal with the rising temperature is to reuse natural and traditional vinification methods to increase the perception of freshness and tension. This is what we have done, for example, with PORER Pinot Grigio: One part of the grapes were pressed immediately after their arrival at the estate, another part was kept on the skins for 15 hours and the third part was in contact with stems and skins for about one year. We combine different components to create a fresh, lively and precise Pinot Grigio that preserves into the future as well.
Tasting The COMETS
The COMET wines are the result of innovation and experimentation, drawing inspiration from The COMETS of the universe. The COMETS are experiments with exotic grape varieties, that are not typical for the region or are forgotten native. Alois Lageder has recently released extremely limited quantities of these wines that are highly sought after by wine lovers, sommeliers, and restaurants.
The COMET Bla Bla 2 is made from 100% Blatterle, an almost completely forgotten autochthonous grape variety from South Tyrol. It is a unique and exciting wine. Made traditionally and purely, the wine has notes of lemon and citrus, with a bit of creamy nuttiness. Finishes with nice salinity and minerality.
The COMET ZIE XVI is a wine made from grape varieties from all over the world. Alois Lageder planted them in the vineyards as a field blend. Some varieties were still unripe at harvest time, and have impressively high acidity levels and little sugar. Others, on the other hand, are overripe, with mature aromas and lots of sugar. Yet others are perfectly physiologically mature. The balance that the individual components contribute is astounding.