From a high slope on the east side of the Adige Valley that cuts across the Dolomite foothills, Martin Foradori explains some of northern Italy’s strangely un-Italian terroirs.
“My winery is built on two pillars—Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer,” Foradori says. Gewürztraminer dominates on the western side of the valley, around the village of Tramin, which gets morning sun. Pinot Noir is more adapted to the eastern side. “The evening sun is cooler than the morning sun, so the microclimate is fresher,” he explains. “Here we are in Pinot-land.”
Pinot Noir? Gewürztraminer? In Italy?
Welcome to the Alto Adige, Italy’s bilingual Tyrolean stepchild, adopted nearly a century ago after World War I—and now known for some of Italy’s top white wines and intriguing reds.
Foradori, 46, is deputy mayor of Tramin (or Termeno if you use the Italian name over the German one), which is home to his J. Hofstätter winery. It’s a postcard-perfect village, population 3,300, that looks like it came right out of the Sound of Music.
Foradori is considered a gifted interpreter of the vineyards here, with flagship wines regularly scoring 90 points or higher in Wine Spectator’s blind tastings. In this valley of tiny vineyards and growers who sell most of their grapes to local cooperatives for value-priced wines, he is one of the few independent grower-producers with substantial vineyards on both sides of the valley.
Now totaling about 120 acres, J. Hofstätter is the product of a fortuitous merger of family vineyards: In 1959, Martin’s father, Paolo Foradori, who owned Pinot Noir vineyards on the east side of the Adige, married the daughter of J. Hofstätter Konrad Oberhofer, who owned vineyards on the west side. (And, yes, for those of you wondering, the family is related to Trentino-area winemaker Elisabetta Foradori, known for her Teroldego; she and Martin are cousins.)
In the 1980s, Paolo was one of the first area winemakers to bottle single-vineyard wines. Martin took over J. Hofstätter in 2000, when he was 30 years old, and continued to refine the vineyard selections begun by his father.
“I’m a vineyard guy,” Foradori says of his philosophy, “not a winery guy.”
Foradori now produces more than 20 wines, a lineup spanning wines in the $20 to $25 range, such as Pinot Grigio and an easy-drinking version of the local, tannic red Lagrein, up to single-vineyard bottlings of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco (also known locally by the German name Weissburgunder) and Pinot Nero.
He continues to up his game. In 2014 he partnered with two German winemakers—Nik Weis of St.-Urbans-Hof and Johannes Fischer of Dr. Fischer—to make Mosel Riesling. The Alto Adige doesn't have the soils for stellar Riesling, says Foradori: “The great Rieslings are north of the Alps.”
This year, he is set to release his two most ambitious Alto Adige bottlings to date—both with long names and high prices to match.
His Ludwig Barth Von Barthenau Vigna Roccolo Pinot Nero 2012 is a selection from one 70-year-old parcel in his prized Barthenau vineyard that brings uncommon elegance and power to the wine. He made only 125 cases and plans to price it around $250.
His Konrad Oberhofer Vigna Pirchschrait Gewürztraminer 2006 ($160, 80 cases made) is a selection from his Kolbenhof vineyard in which the wine has aged 10 years on lees, adding depth and complexity to this aromatic varietal that Foradori ferments bone-dry.
The impetus for the new wines, Foradori says, came from “our conviction that the peak of quality in Alto Adige was not reached completely and that there was a lot more to discover.”
Foradori looks to some elite wines as paragons.
For Pinot Noir, he references Burgundy. “I would love to drink Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques every day.” He then fiddles with his smartphone to make an estimate and adds with a laugh, “I would need a budget of $182,000 a year!”
Drinking a bottle of Foradori’s new Pinot Nero every day would cost roughly half that. Still, that’s more than $91,000 a year.
The quantities and prices will put these wines out of reach for many wine lovers. Luckily, J. Hofstätter and other Alto Adige producers still have a lot more affordable options for us to explore.