Wine Stories Jessica Bordoni

Piwi wines of Thomas Niedermayr

Piwi wines of Thomas Niedermayr

Solaris, Bronner, Souvignier Gris, Cabernet Cantor, Cabernet Cortis: we are in the field of the so-called Piwi grapes, from the German pilzwiderstandfähig, i.e. grape varieties resistant to fungal attack, and therefore less prone to the fearful diseases powdery and downy mildew. Thomas Niedermayr (pictured in the photo), the very young owner of the Hof Gandberg farm in Eppan, knows them well. Practically all of his two hectares of vineyards are taken up with these varieties obtained by crossing European and American species. Born in 1986, Thomas has made studies on the smallest environmental impact, the fundamental point of his business, working under organic viticulture management (that he prefers to define as “natural”) without the use of agrochemicals and synthetic chemical fertilisers.

The minimal environmental impact of Piwi grapes

“The decision to adopt the Piwi variety, made by my father at the end of the first decade of 2000, came from the desire to cultivate the land in the most organic way possible. The fewer the treatments in the vineyard, the lower the stress suffered by the plant… and I work less, too!” admits Thomas. The vines are at an altitude of about 500 metres, near the Gandberg mountain that the farm is named after. “All the operations are done strictly by hand: leaf removal, shoot thinning, then bunch thinning and the harvest. The slope imposes considerable physical efforts on us. Copper and sulphur are heavy metals and accumulate with time in the soil. The robust nature of this type of plant allows us to carry out very few treatments, three a year at most, allowing the earth to breathe.” With the Pinot Blanc (the only typical local variety grown at Hof Gandberg) the number of treatments rises to an average of 13-15.

Since 1991 members of Bioland Südtirol

“The obsession with organic is a paternal legacy,” continues Thomas. “My family has been working in the sector for many generations, but until 1992 we limited ourselves to handing over our grapes to a Cooperative Winery in the area.” Towards the end of the 1980s, however, Thomas’s father began to approach organic farming and in 1991 he decided to join Bioland Südtirol, the Alto Adige “branch” of the German association, with very strict production regulations aimed at maintaining the balance of the natural life of the soil. In 1993 the winery became in all respects a producing winery, managing the entire procedure of grape processing.

Thomas Niedermayr, from carpenter to vigneron

At the time, Thomas, the third of six children, was only seven years old and had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up. “When I finished middle school, I enrolled at the carpentry institute and, after I got my diploma, I worked for a few years in the wood sector. But at a certain point I realised that I needed a new challenge. The doors of my home were always open and the desire to work alongside my father at the farm was very strong. However, I thought it was necessary to gain a bit of experience before joining the winery.” No sooner said than done, for three years Thomas attended the agricultural school in Leimburg, Bavaria, and then did courses at the Simonit & Sirch pruning school, joining their group of consultants and assisting some wineries directly. “In 2012 I understood that I was ready to go back to base and in 2013 I took over the winery. My father is still active and gives me a hand, whereas the other siblings have decided to go in other directions.” In total there are three hectares of property, two of vineyards and one of apple orchards. “In the next few years I want to expand the vineyard surface area by renting another two hectares. Here in Adige, land is scarce and therefore very valuable.”

Piwi grapes in the vineyard since 1999

The first experiments with the Piwi variety date back to the mid 1990s. “In 1999 the first vineyard was planted with the white grape, Solaris, a similar variety to Chardonnay, which gives intense, full-bodied wines with tropical aromas. Nearly every year we have continued with experimental fields, and subsequently planting vineyards, and today there are different Piwi cultivars at the farm, like Solaris, Bronner, Souvignier Gris, and the two red varieties Cabernet Cantor and Cabernet Cortis.” The number of bottles totals around 12 thousand, but the target is to reach 30 thousand. All the wines are the result of spontaneous fermentation, without controlling the temperature and with few sulphites. The wine is left to mature on the lees for a very long time with native yeasts. Ageing, strictly in barrels, takes place in 500-litre casks. No clarification or filtration, only the addition of very few sulphites.

The Piwi wines to try

The labels bear the owner’s initials, as well as the year the variety was planted, followed by the name of the variety and the vintage year. For example, T.N. 04 Bronner 2014. “With this variety it is difficult to take part in competitions in Italy. However there is an international Piwi championship, where we have won with various wines.” The T.N. 04 Bronner 2014 won the gold medal with a score of 90/100; while the T.N. 06 Piwi Weiss 2013 got 94/100. “In this case we weren’t able to put the name of the variety, the Souvignier Gris, on the label, because it still hadn’t been officially recognised. We used the term Weiss, which means ‘white’ in German.”

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