With its towering battlements radiating amid vine-drenched hills and mountains lanced by snow, Castel Rametz is, without doubt, a quintessential sight of South Tyrol.
The wine estate, perhaps more than any other, embodies the beauty of Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes conspiring with medieval contours to steal your breath.
Perched above Merano in the luxuriant district of Maia Alta, Castel Rametz was etched on our must-see list ever since first admiring its stately manner from the mountainside of the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle.
When we discovered the estate hosts a Christmas market each year, we carved out time to finally visit. The chance to turn several shades of merry before even setting foot in the traditional Christmas market of Merano was too enticing to pass up.
A Hillside Haunt Steeped in History
While Castel Rametz has seen rulers come and go over the centuries, wine has always reigned as the rightful owner to its throne. According to historical records, the castle was first mentioned in 1227 under the possession of the Counts of Ultimo. Glorious casks of wine soon followed.
Grapevines thrive in the water-rich soil of a glacial moraine and receive generous downpours of sunlight from the south. And the Texel Mountain Group thundering on the horizon does more than elevate the romance of the estate. These 10,000+ foot giants also shelter the vines from blustery winds swooping down from the north.
Through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Rametz family held the castle. Followed by other nobles of the region such as the Lords of Aichners, Quaranta and Parravicini.
In 1836, Francesco Flarer, a noted physician and professor from Merano, bought Castel Rametz eventually restoring the crumbling estate to its present romantic form. Nearly 25 years later, the castle’s vineyards saw the first planting of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) in South Tyrol, which continues to flourish to this day.
During World War II, German Schutzstaffel (SS) troops requisitioned Castel Ramtez along with nearby Castel Labers as a logistics base for a secret Nazi plan code-named “Operation Bernhard”. Commissioned by Hitler and his cronies, the goal of the operation was to undermine the British economy through the massive introduction of counterfeit money. The idea being escalating inflation would ultimately destroy Britain’s financial system.
Today, the Schmid family owns and operates Castel Rametz. In addition to the winery, the estate houses a traditional Tyrolean restaurant and a museum dedicated to the history of viticulture and speck production in South Tyrol.
Courting Christmas Cheer
We arrived at Castel Rametz on a pleasant sunny December afternoon and received season’s greetings in our favorite manner: the wagging tail of man’s best friend.
After imparting a handful of love on the furry coat of the castle’s guardian, we approached an immense arched doorway, which was a bit like walking up to a Christmas tree on Christmas morning as a child. A jingle of excitement rang through us as we wondered what lied beyond the tangles of ivy sprawling its hallowed stones.
The courtyard welcomed us with exquisite holiday dazzle. Classy decor and a roaring fire made it a sanctuary for the season. Looking around, we doubted the spirit of Christmas ever leaves Castel Rametz. Even after the season fades into the bleakness of winter.
A stand in the courtyard offered traditional delicacies to delight in while enjoying the smokey crackle of logs aflame. But since we arrived right after lunch, we chose to browse the Christmas market within the castle.
Inside, we found artisans selling favors of the season including handmade decor, candles and even vintage black and white pictures of South Tyrol. These caught our interest. We picked up two scenes capturing the Dolomites from long ago to hang in our home.
Next, we followed candles leading us down steps into Castel Rametz’s cellar. The old-world character of the 12th-century cellar wrapped around us like a cozy Christmas blanket.
Amid the glow of flickering flames, we admired row upon row of wine bottles aging into the treasures of tomorrow. In a nearby stone nook, a carefully carved nativity scene caught our eye. We studied its graceful beauty beneath lights casting the deep blue hues of a winter’s night sky.
Gift of the Vines – Tasting the Wines of Castel Rametz
We could have remained enveloped in the ambiance of the cellar for some time, but there’s something about staring at bottles of wines that makes us want to uncork one. Embarking on a wine tasting next in Castel Rametz’s enoteca seemed wildly appropriate as our next stop.
We climbed the cellar stairs parking ourselves on two seats at the wine tasting counter. Castel Rametz’s Florian Lamprecht soon met us with a knowing smile.
We quickly learned English was not a common tongue. However, with our basic understanding of Italian, we spoke wine well enough together to enjoy a remarkable tasting.
While we only planned to sample three wines at the start, we had such a good time with Florian that our procession of wines ended up including seven different varieties from the Castel Rametz portfolio. Florian kindly brought us a plate of speck to savor during our time with him.
Our tasting began with a 2017 Gewürztraminer, which was a favorite of Kate’s. We then progressed to a Pinot Grigio before sipping our way to the silky pleasure of a 2012 Pinot Nero (also known as Blauburgunder). Florian proudly pointed out that the first Pinot Nero vine planted in South Tyrol was at Castel Rametz in 1860.
All of the wines were a pleasure to taste, but the most surprising was the 2011 Césuret Chardonnay and the 2010 Castel Monreale Extra Brut, the latter of which won the gold medal at the “The WineHunter Award 2018”.
We tend to shy away from these wine varieties unless a special occasion calls for them; however, both of these gems from Castel Rametz would be a joy to uncork at any time.
When to Visit Castel Rametz
Whether you’re a lover of wine or simply a fan of riveting history and architecture, Castel Rametz is well worth adding to your trip plans while visiting Merano.
Guided tours are available upon request, but not required to see the museum and visit the enoteca for a tasting or to purchase the wines. Opening hours can be found on the Castel Rametz website.
Castel Rametz celebrates the advent season beginning the last weekend of November through the weekend before Christmas Eve. The market takes place on Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 8 pm.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to dine at the Castel Rametz restaurant located on the estate, but we did take a peek inside. If the rustic interior is any indication, it appears to serve nothing but hearty goodness perfect for a blustery winter day. We suggest timing your visit to also enjoy a meal here.