The Luxury Wine Cooperatives Of Northern Italy

Of 20 Italian administrative regions, the furthest northeast is that of Trentino-Alto Adige. This is a location where cooperatives—through scrupulous attention toward quality—have established a solid reputation for consistently producing high quality wines.

Cooperative Power

Vines for making wine have been grown in this mountainous region of what is now Italy since before the time of Romans. A driving force that established today’s production organization derived from land ownership. Wine cooperatives originated here in the 19th century when grape producers could be fit into two classifications—wealthy larger producers (such as the church and land barons) who might own 50 acre [20 hectare] plots, and poorer agricultural families who owned smaller plots up to 3.5 acres [1.5 hectares] in area. Both needed to sell grapes at the same price.

To better protect and organize smallholders, a wine cooperative was formed in 1893 by 24 growers. Seven years later wines from this cooperative won a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris, inciting members to continue their collective effort. It took decades before the cooperative could afford to construct its own building.

Today, 70% of Alto Adige wines are produced by cooperatives.

In 2008, two powerful local wine cooperatives in this region—Cantina Terlan and Cantina Andriano—merged. The vines of Andriano cover a smaller area than those of Terlan—with the production is some half million bottles annually, as opposed to 1.5 million bottles for Terlan.

‘Cooperatives are the most important system now in Alto Adige,’ explained Julia Springeth, who markets wines for Cantina Terlan. ‘I grew up here, then started traveling throughout the world. I saw how many cooperatives in other places had a bad reputation because growers did what they wanted, and often delivered poor quality grapes. Here, that is not true.

‘Here the cooperative can pay a good price to growers if the quality is high. So growers do not want to sell their vines. In this way the cooperative protects small families who do not want to sell to international companies.’

Rules for producers supplying grapes to Terlan and Andriano are strictly enforced. Those who dismiss them can be also dismissed from a cooperative. The use of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are prohibited by Cantina Terlan, for example. Irrigation is controlled and only allowed under special circumstances.

Enologists working with the Terlan and Andriano cooperatives, such as Simon Kompatscher, constantly monitor and control the quality and outputs from each of 70 producers. They grade each vineyard on a set of metrics, and their scores factor into the price each grower receives for grapes. Vineyards are rated from plus three to minus three points (although select vines for reserve wines are rated between plus and minus six points). Because steep slopes make it difficult for families to cultivate and harvest vines except within small plots, the average vineyard in the region is 1.7 acres (0.7 hectares) in area.

‘Farms are small and had to bind together,’ Julia explained. ‘The growers are all proud—they don’t speak about their grape type but about the name of the final wine product. The cooperatives are strict, so we have high average quality. In other parts of the world people say, ‘Oh this is a good wine, but how strange that it was made by a cooperative!’ Here in Alto Adige, it’s the opposite.’

Some 98% of grape producers in the region also grow apples at lower elevations, and orchards cover 21 square miles [5,500 hectares], which is five times the area covered by vines. Hence, growers are not completely dedicated to vines, and so many readily accept assistance.

‘Many growers are, say, schoolteachers or doctors,’ explained Klaus Gasser—sales and marketing director for Cantina Terlan. ‘They are not experts in wine production. Our agronomist is very busy coming to each vineyard and giving ratings and advice. He keeps track of everything that happens in the vineyard and provides inputs—warning about insect infestations, for example.’

The results of these enologist inputs are evident in every vineyard, where growers can be seen meticulously cutting vine clusters in half, and ensuring that there are only seven clusters per vine in some regions.

‘They cut away the lower part,’ Klaus explained. ‘The upper part is closest to the vine and its nutrients. Cutting also clears the way for wind to pass, helping eliminate mildew.’

At present neither Cantina Terlan or Cantina Andriano are allowing new members to join. Considering that a top end Cantina Terlan wine can sell for 180 Euros a bottle, producers realize that they are generally in good hands staying with a coop that pays careful attention to them, and can also reward them financially well for their efforts.

‘We are sort of a luxury coop,’ Klaus said.

Geography –

Understanding geography is key to understanding wines of Terlan/Andriano [Terlano is the name of the town; Terlan is the name of the wine cooperative].

Grapes grow along slopes on both sides of the middle portion of the Alto Adige valley—formed during the last ice age when 3,000 foot (1,000 meter) thick sheets of ice covered the terrain, pushing downhill and outward and creating a U-shaped valley. This valley now runs northwest to southeast. Plugging the northern end of this valley are the Alps—which block cold northern air from slipping into the region, contributing to a mild and temperate Alpine Continental climate. Average annual temperatures here are 52 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit [11 to 12 Celsius], providing both Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation. The resulting climate is generally hot during summers.

‘We are totally blocked from the north,’ Klaus explained. ‘The mountain wall is some 3000 meters [roughly 10,000 feet] high. Rains come from the south.’

Along the base of the valley runs the River Adige. Vines that supply Cantina Terlan line slopes along the eastern side of the valley between elevations of 850 and 2900 feet [260 to 900 meters]. They grow over volcanic red-colored porphyric rock, and are mostly white. Vines supplying Cantina Andriano grow on the west side of the valley at elevations from 850 to 1,100 feet [260 to 340 meters] over limestone and dolomite rock. Many wines produced from here are reds.

Further south, some 100 kilometers along the valley, is Lake Garda. On most afternoons cool air from above this lake flows northward, helping to dry Terlan/Andriano vines and reducing the risk of mildew. These up-valley winds die down in the evening, but then another set of winds flow down both the eastern and western mountain slopes to the valley floor. Such winds contribute to marked temperature differences between day and night, impacting the development of alcohol and acidity in grapes.

‘Cold air is like water,’ Julia explained. ‘Once the sun sets cold air flows down from the mountains and pushes down temperatures. We have mostly white wines in Alto Adige, and that is the reason why whites can do so well in a hot climate. The temperature swings can be very extreme, providing crisp acidity but phenolic maturity. Vines here, growers say, are kissed by god.’

The range of elevations for growing grapes here is also advantageous.

‘Different elevations are good for different grapes,’ Klaus explained, providing an example for Cantina Terlan. ‘The best Pinot Bianco grows at between 550 and 650 meters [1,800 to 2,100 feet].’

Wines –

Today two thirds of the cooperative wines are sold in Italy, and the remainder are sold in 50 different countries, of which the U.S. and Germany are the largest consumers.

Due to the delicacy of local white grapes, the wines of Cantina Terlan are aged in big casks of 1,200 to 7,000 liters volume for a year, and then spend another six months in concrete.

A typical Terlan blend is predominantly Pinot Bianco, followed by Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This composition is similar to that which existed in the mid 19th century. The region then belonged to the Austrian empire, which insisted on planting French grape varieties.

The hardness of porphyric soils that underlay Cantina Terlan vines created the steep terraces where growers now toil by hand. Under this porphyric substrate is a sandy loamy soil with high percentages of quartz and little limestone; this provides high permeability to water. Wines associated with this region often include tension and complexity, with some salinity in taste and an ability to age well.

Andriano vines receive sun from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in summer, and grow in a cooler climate than do the vines of Terlan. Wines produced here includes reds such as Lagrein, Pinot Noir, Bocado and Rubeno (which age in small oak casks) and whites such as Pinot Gris, Floreado and Müller Thurgau.

The attention to monitoring quality and production become clear when tasting of Terlan / Andriano wines.

Rudi Kofler, cellar master and technical director of Cantina Terlan, has worked for the cooperative since 1999. In 2012 the cantina produced its first Terlano I Grand Cuvée from the 2011 vintage. This top end wine is only created during years when grapes are considered acceptable for good quality and long aging potential.

‘It can be described in a single word—exclusive,’ Rudi declared. ‘Our objective is to create a cuvée that expresses the best in Terlano’s wine-making culture.’

Klaus described the components. ‘Pinot Bianco is the backbone of this wine, Chardonnay is a shoulder providing richness and roundness and Sauvignon Blanc adds aromatic complexity.’

Below are tasting notes for Terlan/Andriano wines.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2011. 97 points.

This 85/10/5 Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc also includes juice from 2009 and 2010 and ages for one year in oak. Includes delicate aromas of yellow apples, white pears, and slight spearmint. Beautifully delicate mouthfeel with minerality and flavors that include crisp yellow and green apples. An unusually creamy and delicate wine. Only 3,000 bottles produced.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2012. 96 points.

This 90/7/3 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc includes soft aromas of marshmallows and lime, as well as green apples and eucalyptus. Again a beautifully soft and delicate wine that coats the cheeks with oil and includes minerality, tension and salinity and allows subtle, rich, delicate flavors to seep out. Includes the finesse of a Sauternes and the delicate fruit of a Friuli.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2013. 95 – 96 points.

A 90/7/3 blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with open, rounded and generous aromas that include yellow and white pears and some eucalyptus. Good tension between acidity and fruit. In the mouth a creamy wine with supple acidity. Includes the same delicacy of a Viognier as well as slight flavors of mandarins, gooseberries and yellow apples.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2015. 97+ points.

Open and generous aromas of yellow and white pears and green apples in this 90/7/3 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc. Minerality and salinity in the mouth with flavors that include roasted yellow apples and honey. Lovely cheek feel in this generous, somewhat complex and slightly buttery wine with a long and attractive length. Well balanced and gorgeous. Between 2,800 and 3,000 bottles produced.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2016. 97+ points.

A 75/22/3 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc that has crisp, rich, acidic and racy aromas of honey and salt. Rich and well balanced with flavors that include yellow pears, mild menthol and some honey on the finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2017. 95 points.

Acidic aromas of green apples and yellow plums as well as some gooseberry and lime. Rounded flavors include honey and salt in this textured wine with a beautiful mouth feel and suave acidity. After five minutes in the glass huge, rounded aromas include more honey and there is even slight cherry on the finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2018. 95-96 points.

This 65/32/3 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc includes aromas of yellow pears, green apples, some butter, honey and butterscotch. Luscious flavors of honey, some salinity and slight tropicals make for easy drinking. Orange and yellow apple slices mid palate and a gorgeous length.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Primo Grand Cuvée. Alto Adige DOC. 2019. 96 points.

This wine that is mostly sold to restaurants includes spry and acidic aromas of green and yellow apples. A full, fruity, rich, tense and lovely wine with flavors that include a bounty of yellow pears, white pears, a lick of honey and grapefruit. Attractive mouth feel and sleek length and slight salt on the finish.

Cantina Terlan. Cuvée Terlaner. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2021. 92 points.

A 60/30/10 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc that is an entry level cuvée popular with restaurants. Crackling acidity with precise aromas that include fresh tropicals, honey and butterscotch. Compelling creaminess in the mouth; a textured wine with flavors of green and yellow apples on the finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2019. 94 points.

Aged in 3,000 liter casks for a year with stirring of lees, followed by six months in concrete. Aromas of apricots and sultanas, butter and lime. A well balanced reserve wine that is also well integrated between fruit and acidity. A zesty, layered white with some spice—think a rich and buttered Burgundy meeting a lick of Sauternes as well as a clean, acidic Riesling with a lick of caramel.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2016. 94 points.

This 60/30/10 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc includes aromas of lime, slight hickory, mandarins, apricot, and butter. A rich and inviting wine with flavors that include green and yellow apples. Well-structured with complexity, tart acidity as well as slight nuttiness; some salt and caramel on a creamy finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2014. 94 points.

A 60/30/10 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc that is light gold colored with jumping, bold aromas of wet stone, minerality, gooseberry. A rounded mouthful with textured creaminess and crackling acidity on the finish. A sliver of silkiness in this coherent wine.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2010. 93 points.

This 60/30/10 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc includes aromas of green apples, yellow pears. Flavors include a sweet and sour medley more creamy than acidic with flavors that include butter, green apples, and overripe Bartlett pears. A lingering finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2003.

Aromas a generous river of candy cane, yellow and white pears and sultanas. Complex with rich flavors that include caramel and oranges and a stunning finish that includes golden syrup, slight butterscotch, melon and salt. Sleek acidity.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Nova Domus Riserva. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 1998. 92 points.

From a difficult, cool and rainy vintages comes this wine with precise and linear aromas that include green and yellow fruit. A rounded, generous, wine with ripe tannins, flavors of yellow pears and some nectarines. Beautiful acidity, finish and length.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Rarity. Alto Adige Terlano. 2008.

This 85/10/5 blend of Pinot Bianco/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc is called a ‘rarity’ because a different than usual vinification technique was used. Aged one year in a 3,000 liter cask, then ten years in steel, then in bottles. Rich and fresh aromas of green apples, slight lime, salinity and flint with creamy, layered and well-balanced flavors that include some almonds mid palate and a stunning finish with slight menthol and fresh bread.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner Rarity. Alto Adige Terlano. 1991.

As Klaus Gasser noted, ‘With Terlaner wines, sometimes you need a lot of patience.’ This was an ‘extreme vintage’ that three oenologists worked on to tame. The result? Excellent. Bold, straightforward, fresh, steady aromas with vibrant acidity; flavors include limes, mandarins and sleek minerality on the finish.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner. Alto Adige Terlano. 1971.

From a good vintage comes this white with aromas of green apples, white pears, orange rind and green grass. Slight astringency, as well as salinity and wet stone in aromas. Rich and robust flavors of oranges, white pears and slight treacle as well as a resounding finish and wafting length. This beauty will pair well with foie gras.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner. Alto Adige Terlano. 1966.

A dark gold colored 100% Pinot Bianco with aromas of sultanas, orange rind and sesame seeds. A vibrant and balanced wine oozing with flavors of oranges, some lime and slight oatmeal. A well integrated, proud wine reminding us of the skill of the maker. Delicious and versatile that could pair well with dover sole or poultry for anyone fortunate to drink a bottle of this nectar.

Cantina Terlan. Terlaner. Alto Adige Terlano. 1955.

Quite a bright shout of oranges, menthol and slight mocha aromas from this great European vintage. Vinified in 2,500 liter casks. This wine is a layered (and no doubt nutritious) meal in a glass brimming initially with flavors of oranges that open to sultanas. Freshness and saltiness. As Klaus and Rudi noted, yeasty flavors become more elegant and cleaner after 5 to 30 minutes.

Cantina Andriano. Andrius Sauvignon Blanc. Alto Adige DOC. 2020.

A wine that moves well in restaurants because of its flexibility in pairing with foods. Aromas of green apple and caramel as well as a smidgen of raspberries. A crisp wine with minerality and flavors that include green apples and lime; long finish.

Cantina Andriano. Gant Merlot Riserva. Alto Adige DO. 2018.

Bright acidity and fruit, well integrated earthy flavors. This is Alto Adige credibly masquerading as a Napa.

Cantina Andriano. Doran Chardonnay Riserva. Alto Adige DOC. 2019.

This lime colored ‘golden one’ of Andriano includes aromas of butter and lime and in the mouth includes flavors of toast, slight oatmeal and limes. Textured and attractive, with sleek acidity.

Cantina Terlan. Quarz Sauvignon. Alto Adige DOC. 2009.

A wine with minerality and crisp acidity but also includes a rounded, oily mouth feel. Flavors include lime and grapefruit.

Cantina Terlan. Vorberg Riserva Pinot Bianco. Alto Adige Terlano DOC. 2016.

Made from grapes grown at between 1,650 and 2,100 feet (500 and 630 meters) elevation and aged in 40-year-old casks, this wine poured from a magnum includes aromas of green apples, apricots and gooseberries. A creamy delight with edges of apples, mandarins and zesty acidity. Excellent for pairing with food apparently—and recommended by the winemakers to go with meat, truffles, quail’s eggs and tagliarini pasta, or Romagna artichokes.

Cantina Terlan. Porphyr Lagrein Riserva. Alto Adige DOC. 2019.

Minerality and aromas of red plums. Flavors of dark cacao, treacle, and with brilliant but soft acidity. Pair with deer meat and truffles and cream of parsley root.

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