I visited our friends GraWü in mid-October, a few weeks after the end of the harvest, to get a sense of what’s coming for the 2020 vintage.
I felt extremely lucky to be able to keep these travel plans which were only a few weeks before the second wave of the pandemic. I arrived in Merano on Thursday night, and met Dominic at Meteo for a nice dinner and shared some wines from France and the US.
Merano is a special place that I have come to love now that I’ve been a few times. South Tyrol is weird, interesting, and very different than any other part of Northern Italy that I’ve been to — it’s probably the least Italian part of Italy you can imagine. There is a melancholy in the air, a breeze of yesterday. Perhaps the Empress Sissi marked the place forever. There are dualities: the German/Italian language, the mountains and winter vibe together with the warm and exotic palms, with lovely afternoons warming us in the gentle sunshine of October. The microclimate is like a small city on the French Riviera was moved to the middle of the Alps… probably why Sissi was there!
Oh, and that restaurant, Meteo: if you stop by Merano, you should definitely go there. The location is amazing, just above the Adige river which is fairly small but alive and raging, as the bed of the river gets narrower right when entering Merano. Meteo has two levels, or maybe three (Google Maps dropped us on the third highest level at the back of the building. It seems everything is built on terraces around this river). Delicious food, beautiful spot, and if the cuisine took us through some great Italian classics revisited with success, the vibe reminded me of some places I’ve been in Vienna and Berlin – a stupid parallel from a French-American tourist? I am really looking forward to going back and exploring the wine menu further. I’m picturing the outdoors in April or May and think it might be heaven…
Enough raving; let’s speak about wine. I’m here to give a heads-up on what’s cooking in GraWü’s magical laboratory after the 2020 harvest!
I met Dominic at the winery on Friday morning. The first thing we did, because the weather was beautiful, was take a short walk in the vineyard right above the winery. These are not GraWü’s vines but the grower’s that lent them the winery building which is part of a bigger old farm construction. We exchanged a few words with the grower, walked through vines and apple trees. In this region, apple orchards (are we allowed to talk about orchards?) are unlike anything I’ve seen. Small trees in tight lines, just like a vineyard, with a super high density of apples. From afar, I was tricked at first and took them for vines. There’s a lot to say about the apple industry in the area, but I’ll skip it for now! Back to the winery to taste the new wines in the making.
First to the Chardonnay section. Interesting things going on there. GraWü sources Chardonnay from three different vineyards. One from the Valle dei Laghi, at 600m elevation, another from Trento, at 300m, and another from Piana Rotaliana, a bit north of Trento, at about 250m elevation, near the vineyards of Elisabetta Foradori.
Dominic decided to experiment with different processes for the Chardonnays. I’m not sure exactly where it will go, and I’m not sure Dominic knows himself. One of the Chardonnays follows a similar process as the Chardonnay 2018 and 2019: a short maceration time with the skin (3 days) but experiments with different vessels, partly in stainless steel tanks, partly in small barriques which are 50% oak and 50% acacia. This one is coming from the first vineyard mentioned, in Valle dei Laghi.
Another Chardonnay is skin-fermented and might go for a slightly longer maceration.
Then, the third vineyard in Piana Rotaliana will go for a long maceration in large barrels, for seven months. We massaged and tasted this one too. It’s amazing how, although fermentation is long finished, the wine still releases its CO2! I’m really curious about what will come out of that. At this point, it’s not sure how this will end up, and it doesn’t mean this will be three different wines at all! My guess would be two different cuvées, as I foresee the long maceration will be released unblended! We’ll see next year…
To some extent, the Chardonnays from GraWü up to 2019 are shy kids hiding. In their tender age, they might not always reveal themselves to those who taste them for the first time. As they evolve and age in the bottle, and also after opening, they reveal many different qualities and give me great emotions. I’m curious how 2020’s will be in comparison.
Moving on from the Chardonnay section, we tasted a Bronner now aging in stainless steel tanks. For those who don’t know it, Bronner is a hybrid grape resulting from successive crossing between several Vitis species including Vinis vinifera varieties (Riesling and Pinot Blanc). Hybrid grapes like Bronner have the advantage of resisting mildew and botrytis, opening new doors for environmentally friendly viticulture. The wine is an extremely light 8%. At this stage, it’s slightly short and closed, expressing acidity and bitterness. It’s hard to predict where this will go, but I’m curious and think it’s not only fun but also very important to explore and experiment with these grapes. What’s at stake is not only making wines with low treatments that are good for the earth, but also making great wines. We’ve seen in recent years that GraWu (especially with Ambra which is a beautiful orange wine from Souvignier Gris – another fungus-resistant grape) and other folks such as Thomas Niedermayr in Alto Adige, or La Garagista in the US, have surprised us with wines that take us out of our once-dogma “Vinis vinifera or nothing”.
Moving on to perhaps the most exciting part of a tasting of GraWü, at least in my opinion: Gewurztraminer. People don’t yet know it well, as they are released in extremely small quantities, but GraWü is producing outstanding Gewürztraminer orange wines, and we really can’t wait to bring some to the US.
We started with the GTO 2020. In accordance with the old adage, “don’t change a winning squad”, the GTO 2020 follows the previous vintage and hasn’t seen any major changes in the process. Coming from the same organic vineyard in the Cembra valley, at 500m elevation on volcanic soil, GTO is a relatively short skin maceration with the stems, fermented in large 2000L tronconic Slovenian barrels made of 50/50 acacia and oak with remontage twice a day, then aged for a very long time in large Slovenian barrels. The wine was already delicious, but it was still forming itself and was a bit hard to read. The 2020 GTO will not be released before spring 2022!
We also tasted the GTO 2019, which follows the same recipe. The wine was already singing the beauty of aging…
Then onto GT Roots. I hope it’s not pretentious to say that I’m glad to be among the not-so-many people who have drunk the previous vintages. GT Roots is a rarity not because of the price, although it’s obviously a rather expensive wine, but because of the quantity (only 250 bottles were produced in 2019, but hopefully close to 400 will be produced in 2020) and also because both the vineyard and the vinification are fairly unique. The grapes come from a very special tiny vineyard in Tramin, the village that gave its name to the Traminer grape, a dry variation of the same family of the Gewürztraminer, also known as Savagnin. Dominic calls it a “Garden of Eden” where vines are cultivated together with pears, lavender, pomegranates, salve, and many other plants, making it a stunning example of biodiversity in the vineyard. And all this gets in your glass! GT Roots 2019 was bottled in July 2020 and GT Roots 2020 will probably be bottled in July 2021.
GT Roots is a long maceration of Gewürztraminer. Skin contact lasts for 7 months in a combination of oak and acacia barrels, then the wine ages and finishes for another 6 months in acacia before bottling. And just like with GTO, Dominic stuck to the recipe, only tweaking the winemaking to best please the vintage. I won’t really give a full sensorial analysis – it’s not my thing – but it’s a symphony of layered flavors and tastes. Once more it shows that very long macerations are capable of expressing many shades and nuances, acting like a prism separating all the colors of the light.
I was not the biggest supporter of Gewürztraminer before, probably more because of ignorance and stereotypes, but GTO changed my mind about that. Since then, I have also tasted other amazing wines like GT Roots, or more recently wines from Hiyu winery, which confirm that the treatment Gewurztraminer sometimes receives doesn’t really honor this grape’s true nature.
Next, Dominic surprised me, and how! We tasted a Riesling, a grape I never saw in the GraWü mix, from a vineyard we actually visited last year which is a few minutes from GraWü’s own vines in Naturno. With the fermentation still in process and a slight level of sugar remaining, it’s hard for me to say how this will evolve, although yes, it looked very promising! It’s always fascinating to taste wine during fermentation, and respect to the winemakers who are capable of reading the wine’s future at this stage. At the moment, Dominic was not yet sure about what this wine would become. He might release a single variety parcellaire cuvée, but could also use it for a blend. All will depend on how the wine evolves in the next months. It might end up playing a principal role in a Bianco…
Bianco is, for many, the flagship wine of GraWü. It was the first wine that represents the direction of Dominic’s winemaking and it has always slightly evolved year after year in composition. It’s a blend of different grapes and vinifications, with a clear goal to express an ideal white wine. At GraWü, Bianco would by no means be entry level like for other winemakers.
Moving onto the Pinot Grigio,this is a “Ramato” in the traditional sense: a maceration of approximately 5 days that gives the wine its unique copper color. Pinot Grigio is sourced from two farms in Trento and Cavedine, and each is fermented and aged separately in acacia and oak, but only large barrels and no small barriques (compared to 2017). Both are de-stemmed but the riper one is made with the stems. We tasted them a week before Dominic blended them to become the PG 2020. They definitely taste closer to the 2019 than to the 2017, but of course things might change. Dominic thinks they will make a slightly bigger and fruitful wine, still very elegant but still neutral compared to 2017 which had a slight touch of oak.
Now, onto the much-awaited Pinot Noir. Dominic sources the Pinot Noir from two different vineyards, each fermented separately. The first comes from a small parcel of a small vineyard (1.5ha) in Trento at 350m on chalky soil, and is fermented whole-cluster with a short maceration. The second comes from GraWü’s own vineyard in Naturno in the Venosta Valley at 550m, is harvested a bit riper, and 10 days later is de-stemmed. The two were assembled a week before our visit, and the wine clearly had to rest and refine itself before sharing any tasting notes, but it really expressed the typical notes of Pinot. In France, we would say ça pinaute, no doubt about it.
And last, before the close of our visit, was something that caught my attention immediately when I first entered the winery: an amphora. I knew Dominic was open to experimentation, but I also know him as a wood vessel guy, using them as a neutral vessel that ensures the perfect oxygen exchange with the aging wine, so I was curious: what’s cooking in the amphora? It’s Pinot Noir. The Amphora is one from Demetra which is actually not the classic terracotta but a mix of clay and chamotte (cooked and crushed ceramic). The wine was fermented full cluster in wood and then will macerate in the amphora for 6 or 7 months. I can’t wait to taste the late stages, but already at that stage it was unctuously delicious, expressing many dimensions of the grape and was decidedly fruit-focused.
We ended the tour in the office, tasting the 2019 wines that I had not yet had the opportunity to taste in bottles: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Ambra, GT Roots and Pinot Nero (2018). Some of these will soon be available here in New York. I was really looking forward to tasting the Pinot Grigio as there were none in 2018, and it turns out it is lighter than the 2017, more fruity and perhaps brighter, but just as subtle and nuanced. Vinification used acacia only in 2019 as the juice was lighter and more fragile. I can’t express a preference between the two vintages, as I actually loved the subtle impression of wood in the 2017, but do I think that the 2019 will be even more of a crowd pleaser than 2017.
We also tasted an interesting collaboration between GraWü and Signor Vino, a small chain of wine bar/wine store combo franchises that sell high-end wine in northern Italy, always in great locations. Dominic vinified some Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay for two exclusive cuvées. They differ from GraWü’s standard wine in that they undergo coarse filtering using cardboard. It’s interesting to taste the difference. Not surprisingly, I found less depth especially in the Chardonnay, but hey, still really very good wine!
Otherwise in the region, the following day, just before leaving for Bergamo, we stopped at the cellar of Hansi Riedingerhof. Hansi is a young winemaker from an apple farming family who Dominic helps as a consulting partner as he shapes his first vintages. Currently, Hansi’s is a very small production and his projects are in their early stages, but we were able to taste some very interesting things from 2020, especially a nice Chardonnay maceration aged in Amphora. We’ll be keeping an eye on it!
This visit left me very happy and grateful; grateful for the time and dedication of Dominic, but also grateful for what’s happening in the cellar. The wines I tasted are extremely promising. This was my third year in a row visiting GraWü’s cellar, and every year there are new projects, new experiments, and great discoveries. And as we look forward to 2021, we hope this fairly long dispatch inspires you to try some GraWü if you haven’t already; and if you have, make sure to pick up the latest vintages while they last.
-Roland for Living Wines