The art of wine

Mr. Aurich, could you please explain what a beverage technician does?
They come to discover their passion for wine. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. During my studies I firmly believed that fruit juices would follow me through my whole life - but this didn’t stick. However, I gladly have a glass of juice here and there.

As a spritzer?
No. Always pure. On a nice summer day, a good apple or tomato juice is great. But a nice Pinot Blanc, a flowery Müller-Thurgau, a delicious Riesling, a dreamy Pinot Noir or one of our great Cuvées - well that’s something else for me. That’s my life.

That is why you moved from Berlin to the wine region of South Tyrol…
… to work for a large fruit-processing concern and then for the Laimburg Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry. It was the time when the demand for Vernatsch wine, traditionally bought by Swiss customers, was beginning to decline. The general model was to produce as much, as fast and as cheap a wine as possible. It was high time to drastically re-think South-Tyrolean wine production. We then oversaw the transformation to a quality wine region. It was in this time that I really got to appreciate wine.

How do you mean?
Wine is something special - it is closely tied to the development of the grapevine where the weather conditions put their unique stamp each year. Finally, wine is a mirror of our creativity and ability as people and it can also spark different emotions - assuming it is not an industrial product.

Who defines whether a wine is good or bad?
The person who drinks it and nobody else. There is always only one person in this world who decides whether a wine tastes good or not, and that is you! That is why we invite our customers for a wine tasting here in Juval. They can then decide whether they like the wine, whether it does them good and if it encourages a positive emotion or not.

You are responsible for the award-winning Juval wine since 1992, grown on an altitude of 700 metres. How has the wine developed in the past 26 years?
Earlier we had subjected our Pinot Blanc to acidity reduction. We regulated the acidity by letting malic acid transform to lactic acid. The wine would then become smoother but lose its fruitiness. I was more for going back to the original form. That is why in 1997 we stopped with biological acidity regulation and noticed that the wine went back to its original, more fruity taste, more similar to the grape itself. What we made could then speak for itself.

Could you please elaborate.
The wine should develop naturally and not through my influence in the cellar. For example, nowadays we produce Pinot Noir with a sugar level that yields between 12,5% and 13% alcohol. Wines that are primarily elegant and refined and not overpowering are produced this way.

What kind of wines do you pursue to create?
A mineral Pinot Blanc and an elegant Pinot Noir. For the latter, we for example do not use new barrique barrels, but ones that are at least once or twice used. We simply want to let the wines speak for themselves. I once read that Uli Hoeness, the president of FC Bayern said that the team comes before everything, meaning that it is more important than its individual players, trainers and board members. For me, a pure and natural wine is the top of all priorities. The wine should have the leading role, not the wine-maker.

Your grapes grow on small steep plots of land. Are you really happy with how things are?
Let me put it this way: I accept the reality and the conditions that we have here. What else could I do (smiles)? This area is actually archaeologically protected. The steep terrain and many walls certainly do not make our work here easier. But I try to see it positively - the gneiss rocks and walls support our precious vines by providing them a steadfast foundation to grow, warmth and a unique biosphere. Paired with the unique climate in Val Venosa (ger. Vinschgau) on the Monte Sole (ger. Sonnenberg), all this is distinctly reflected in our wines.

This sounds very philosophical.
People have been building things here since centuries. The first trace of drystone wall terracing has been done in the Bronze Age, so between 1700-1800 b.c. Additionally, large machines cannot get to these steep hills, so in order for the wine to be properly done, it takes a lot of manual labour.

You really don’t want to change anything?
That wouldn’t really be possible. Our stone drywalling is built over the rocks and they compartmentalise the plots. We live on a mountain! And because of this I have great respect for what generations before have accomplished. We also kept the walls out of respect. I wouldn’t change anything about them. The area up here is a responsibility and a challenge at the same time. Our wine is maybe therefor so good because of all the necessary components coming together: the mildly heated, weathered primal rock, the high temperatures achieved from the Southeastern orientation, and the cooling at night thanks to the breeze from the Senales Valley. Even Ötzi found the area pleasing.

How do you know?
The body of Ötzi was not only found in the vicinity, but scientific research suggests that he had to have lived at least 12 years in Juval. So he was a Juvalean. Juval had to have attracted people to this magical place since before time.

It seems the area attracted you too. Have you always been self-employed?
Founding a winery was also a step into self-employment, as we have a lease on it. I have great respect for the estate owner, Reinhold Messner, who gave us free rein over the vineyards and who also supported us. Concerning the founding and development of the winery, two things fundamentally came together: on one hand Reinhold Messner’s vision of a mountainous agricultural good that yields high-quality produce and on the other, the compulsion to produce exceptionally good wines despite the difficult conditions on the mountain. That also raises the price of the products. But I am happy with the results. Very happy!

But it also means that you cannot grow further. You only have access to the available plots.
I never had the need to achieve a maximum possible profit based on the available land. We make wine with the utmost dedication, passion and love. Both our workers as well as our customers see this, some of which travel for hours just to buy our wines directly from the winery. For example, Steffi and Paul Grüner from the Golden Rose hotel also hold the same values as we do. So when a high quality meal at the Golden Rose is paired with a high quality wine from Juval, it’s a win-win situation for all.

Can you give me some numbers?
We produce some 38000 bottles of wine and 3000 bottles of distilled beverages annually.

Does Reinhold Messner know how to store wine properly?
Everyone here on the estate has his or her role or speciality.

Have you already had a ‘summit wine’ (ger. Gipfelwein) with Mr. Messner?
I have to say I don’t know what that is.

It is a custom originating from the time of conquest alpinism in the 19th century. The English came to the Alps in order to climb the 4000m summits. It was a custom back then to have a toast on the top and then to leave a card in the the empty wine bottle as proof of the conquest - and leave the bottle on top of the mountain.
I am not someone who needs to drink a few in order to build up the courage before an ascent. Maybe this is because my hiking abilities are pretty limited, in comparison to Reinhold’s. But I can certainly appreciate the moment when you finally find yourself on top of the mountain - you take a bottle of wine out of your bag and toast to the view, to life and to all the hardships together with your climbing companions.

What could Mr. Messner learn from you?
He has a very confident palate. He prefers our reds to the whites. Wine-growing was of interest to him only up to a certain point. From the beginning on, he was of the opinion that we should only grow red wine. Whilst the conditions weren’t ideal for this, I could convince him that the Juval Mountain could accommodate a fine Pinot Noir as well as great whites too. There are thankfully enough people that like white wine too.

What could you take from him?
His direct and independent way of being. He doesn’t let himself be influenced by anything or anyone. He trusts his strengths, his doubts and his fears. I like that a lot.

Günther Jauch (the television host) reported on Reinhold Messner when he completed his conquest on all fourteen 8000m summits in a local news report from South Tyrol. On this occasion, the locals served great wines, and so did Jauch. Do you think you are responsible for him getting into wine-making?
I can’t claim this. But I still remember very well, somewhere by the end of the 90’s, one Sunday morning two families stood at the door, the Messners and Jauchs. They asked if they could come in and have a look at the cellar and barrels and I gladly showed them around.

You not only sell wines, but also grappa and schnapps made from your own grapes and fruit.
This branch takes up only 20% of our production, however, it is steadily growing. The distillation takes place in our own distillery and employs the complex method of double combustion in a water bath. The high-proof distillate is subsequently diluted with pure Juval spring water.

What sets your schnapps apart from the rest?
Our consumers would know best. The only thing I would say is that our distillates are very fruity, soft and aromatic on the palate. Regarding our distillates, it is very important to me that, as with the wine, our products always be clean and authentic.  

What are your specialties from the distillery?
A passion of mine is the cornelian cherry, a wild fruit variety (lat. Cornus mas). The distillate has a multifaceted, sweet fruitiness on the palate. In other regions, the cherry is known as the Dürlitze or Hirlnuss, and in Austria, Dirndl, Dirndling and Dirndlstrauch. Another great type is the sweet chestnut brandy, or the ‘Castanea’, aged for two years in chestnut wood barrels, as well as the apple brandy produced from local organic golden delicious apples. We of course also have classics such as the plum, Williams pear and apricot brandy, and my personal favourites, quince and single-origin grappa from Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes.

Gin and whiskey are currently having a moment.
That’s right. In order to emphasise the value of noble spirits, we created the label called “brenn.kunst” (eng. the art of distilling). In this new edition, noble spirits and art come together in the form of distillation on one hand and the label design made by two artists from our family on the other.

What makes a perfect evening for you?
Here it is currently 30 C. I would be perfectly happy if I could sit somewhere tonight with a view onto the valley, drink a mature Riesling with some mild cheese from Oberniederhof with a piece of bread on the side. I can’t ask for anything else.

And something else?
Enjoying the evening with my wife Gisela. We love to discuss and ponder over our own and other’s wines. That’s the best thing for me, to taste and experience wines.