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Walch This Way

Before she released her first bottle of eponymous wine in 1990 in the mountains of Alto Adige, Elena Walch had already had a successful career as an architect in urban Milan – so she knows how to structure things, whether it’s a wine, a wine business or a lunch in New York with a wine writer on a rainy spring day.  I had met Walch once before, a half-dozen years earlier over a delightful lunch at Castel Ringberg near Tramin.  Additionally, I have never tasted an Elena Walch wine that wasn’t better than good, so I was looking forward to our meeting at Del Posto on the lower west side.


She married into the Walch winemaking family in 1985, and in the almost 30 years since, she has radically changed vineyard practices and elevated two estates properties, Castel Ringberg and Kastelaz, into cru-quality vineyards.  Like most Alto Adige winegrowers, Walch also buys grapes and produces several varietals at different price and quality levels.  She is now joined in the business by her two daughters, Julia back at home and Karoline, now in charge of U.S. marketing, who joined us for lunch.  It is apparent Karoline shares her mother’s passion and vitality for winegrowing.


Sustainability and vineyard-tending are always top of mind for Alto Adige growers, but I steered the Walchs toward discussing things which are changing in their world.


• “More winegrowers are becoming winemakers,” she began.  That means wineries such as hers that created the Alto Adige brand in the U.S. and elsewhere are losing some of their best sources of grapes.  Additionally, as these new wineries expand, they become competitors in sourcing other grapes.  For years, many growers sold grapes to cooperatives, which are still very important in Alto Adige.  Unlike in many areas, cooperatives produce some of the best wines there.


• Walch reminded me that Gewürztraminer in the biggest white wine among Italians, which is good for Walch, as the Gambero Rosso has dubbed her the “Queen of Gewürztraminer.”  As in the U.S., Riesling has problems gaining traction in Italy.


• Although Alto Adige is known in the United States as a white-wine producer, it makes a lot of red wine – particularly the under-valued Lagrein – and was traditionally a red-wine area.  The 2009 Elena Walch Castel Ringberg Lagrein Riserva, which I had with rare breast of duck, had great flavors, including tart elderberry, and great acidity.


• Walch is doing more blending these days, as “the grapes are of an age that they are ready.”  Her 2010 “Beyond the Clouds” is a haunting mix of Chardonnay and various indigenous grapes including the white Pinots.  Her 2004 “Kermesse,” a rich blend of Lagrein, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, is a lesson in how different varieties within a blend can shine at different times of its development.  I commented on how the Lagrein was so prominent in the bottle we were drinking even though it is just 20% of the mix. 

“That’s right,” Walch agreed, “but just after we made Kermesse, it was the fruit of the Syrah that was showing.”  Overall, look for more blended cuvees from other Alto Adige producers.


• Then there is always the future.  She is experimenting with a relatively new varietal – Bronner – which was first bred in 1975 in Germany.  It is said to taste somewhat like a Pinot Blanc, but is more disease-resistant.  “We will bottle the first one in 2015,” Walch says.  “It is a light, pleasant, aromatic wine, and we plan to make it with no treatments,” including sulfur.


As the glasses are cleared away, and the espresso is served, Walch and I agree we will continue the conversation over lunch back at Castel Ringberg at a date to be determined.

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