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A taste of Alto Adige

 DSC4005Located in Caldaro, one of the largest wine districts of Alto-Adige (800 hectares of vineyards, second only to the Municipality of Appiano) the Kettmeir Cellar represents the northernmost corner of Santa Margherita’s precious oenological mosaic.

The Marzotto family has owned Kettemeir since 1986, but the Santa Margherita brand has been present in the northern Italian region for a number of decades: Pinot Grigio is one of its signature wines, and it is here that it all began. In order to extend its business to Trentino Alto-Adige, Santa Margherita enlisted the help of some key figures of the wine making world, who liaised with local grape producers on behalf of the Venetian company, ensuring a smooth entry into the local market and the successful launch of a new branch in their business. Among them are Bruno Pojer, owner of Salorno’s Maso Reiner and Luis Von Dellemann, from Cantina di Andriano. Both have played a fundamental role in bridging the gap between the regional markets of Veneto and Trentino, choosing to believe in the Marzotto family and their passion for wine making. Both Bruno Pojer and Luis Von Dellemann believe that Santa Margherita is ‘the guardian of Alto Adige’, attributing it the merit of bringing this wine district to international fame.

 

160315 KETTMEIR 17833Bruno e Riccardo Pojer

His nickname ‘King of White’ says a lot about his personality as well as his taste in wine. Authoritative, but not authoritarian, Bruno Pojer began to collaborate with Santa Margherita towards the end of the Fifties, continuing to do so with rigor and professionalism, for over half a century.
Pojer was born 91 years ago in Salorno (Bolzano) on the very border with Trentino, to a proud family of farmers. Today, his son Riccardo manages the family business, Maso Reiner, which supplies its grapes exclusively to Kettmeir. “My family have been farmers for five generations,” Pojer explains, “but in the Fifties, it became clear that the Maso alone couldn’t support all five of us brothers. So I decided to leave the countryside to become a wine mediator, dealing with the purchase and negotiation of grapes on behalf of my clients. I’d survey vineyards and their grape production, intercepting the demand from large wine companies. I was the missing link in the supply and demand chain: between grape suppliers and winemakers in need of extra amounts.”
Pojer’s collaboration with Santa Margherita began in 1957, when he met the Technical Director. He asked Pojer to take charge of the grape purchasing operations for the Venetian brand. “I was liaising with producers from Alto-Adige on behalf of Santa Margherita. Every November, the Technical Director would check in for a wine-tasting – then he’d come back in December to sign the contracts.”
Initially, negotiations would take place before the wine was pressed and the grapes would be sold by the crate. Later, the company would purchase the wine directly. “I’d load up my bag with samples and set off to this or that market. I’ve traveled so much that I’ve gone through 27 different cars.”
In 1979-80, demand exceeded supply in Alto-Adige. “I knew about this new DOC from Trentino called Valdadige – it dealt both in whites and reds. I got all the permits in place and started negotiations with the Trentino producers, to ensure appropriate supplies for Santa Margherita. Production increased and Pinot Grigio started to earn a reputation abroad, quickly becoming a status-symbol on the American market.”
Another key development in Pojer’s professional career took place in 1986, when Santa Margherita bought Kettmeir. “In those years I was also working as a sales representative for a cork factory in Friuli. One day, while I was visiting Kettmeir for work, the owner, Franco Kettmeir, asked me to follow him into his office. He explained that he wanted to sell the company, and asked me if I knew of a potential buyer. I immediately phoned Dr. Marcer, who at the time was working as a managing director for Santa Margherita. He spoke to the president, Count Umberto Marzotto, and called me back after a couple of hours, asking me to find an engineer who could carry out the relevant financial assessments and come up with a quote. Within a month, I was able to get the governor of the province on our side and we wrapped up the deal.” This was the beginning of a new adventure for Santa Margherita.
Bruno Pojer fondly remembers all the wines from Alto Adige that the Venetian company helped bring to international fame: “After Pinot Grigio it was Muller Thurgau's turn, then Chardonnay. Without forgetting all the work done on the production of champagne – at first using the Charmat Method and later the Classic. Today Alto Adige is famous for its white wines, but 30 years ago few would have forseen this success. The Marzotto family was among the very first to take its chances in this segment of the market.”
We ended our conversation with a return to the present. When asked about the relationship between the Santa Margherita Group and the Pojer family, that to this day supplies its Maso Reiner grapes to Kettmeir, Bruno Pojer replies: “The secret of such a long and fruitful relationship lies in our mutual relationship built on honesty and trust. So long as we have these, we will work together happily through many more generations.”

160315 KETTMEIR 17861Luis Von Dellemann

Luis Von Dellemann doesn’t need an introduction. He is one of the great masters of modern oenology in Alto-Adige, having consolidated his legendary reputation over the past fifty years.
“I always say that wine making is in my DNA,” says Von Dellemann, who recently turned eighty. “I was pretty much born in a vineyard. In 1985, my grandfather founded Andriano, one of the first wine making cooperatives of Alto-Adige. He worked there as a oenologist – and so did I.”
Von Dellemann took the first few steps towards becoming an winemaker when he enrolled in the prestigious oenology school of San Michele all'Adige in 1951. After he graduated, Luis moved to Switxerland for work. He came back when he was 23 and was precociously offered a job as an oenologist at Cantina di Adriano.
Luis Von Dellemann played a crucial role in the production of the first Pinot Grigio vinified in white by Santa Margherita. “I still remember the day we met at Cantina di Andriano, to taste the wine with the Technical Director and Bruno Pojer. We had five or six barrels.” Back then, the Pinot Grigio variety was used exclusively as a secondary grape. It took Santa Margherita’s forward-thinking approach to see beyond its initial purpose. “The harvest of 1960 was excellent, making for a full-bodied wine, a little darker than usual, but very characteristic. It was the beginning of a revolution.”
In the Sixties and Seventies, however, the wine making industry of Alto-Adige was aiming for quantity rather than quality. “Luckily in the Eighties many companies started producing less, but following better agronomic strategies, such as switching from pergola to espalier farming. The production was reduced to two-thirds of its original volume, and the public rewarded our efforts with an immediate success.” Luis Von Dellemann himself was the first to have the intuition that white wine should be aged in barrique, rather than steel. It opened up a new era in Alto-Adige wine making. Von Dellman is very passionate about environmental sustainability. “Many winemakers in Alto-Adige are now switching from traditional to organic production. I think the future lies in organic wine. Our customers request it – not only from a wine making perspective, but for fruit and vegetables too.” Another imminent change is that of the climate: “With temperatures rising, we have to plant our vineyards higher and higher, as we do with apple trees.”
We ask him to list the requirements for an Alto-Adige wine to excel. “First of all, it has to have a personality; an easy-to-spot character variety. Each wine is the product of its vineyard and the area it grows on. Our winning profile is a fresh, fruity, fun product. Today there is sometimes too much of a sugary residue. Pinot Blanc is the most representative variety we have here in Alto-Adige, I think, with its apple-y fragrance and fresh character.”
Finally, Von Dellman touches upon the subject of spumante production, of which Kettmeir is a regional leader. “In terms of bubbles, our region still has a lot to give: the quality of our grapes allows us to do so. In Sud Tirol, the tradition of spumante-making goes way back to the end of the 19th Century, but it never reached large groups of people. To this day, the companies that pursue this angle of the market are still very few. It is yet another area in which Santa Margherita has set an example of excellence. But that's not surprising at all.”

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Words – Jessica Bordoni
Photography – Andy Massaccesi, Giò Martorana

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