Elevated in South Tyrol: The Soaring Alpine Wines of J. Hofstätter


Kate + Vin

J. Hofstatter Winery in Tramin at dusk
sudtirol vineyard icon 1

The courtly estate of J. Hofstätter rises like a shining beacon from the craggy cobblestones of Italy’s most charming wine village. Discover why this pioneering winery of Tramin belongs on your wish list when visiting South Tyrol and your local wine shop.

The wine of Tramin has been beloved for centuries. Books of long ago call out the potent qualities of “Traminer” wine. It was said to possess healing powers and spark passions among lovers.

Such veneration was likely referring to a white beauty we now call Gewürztraminer. This highly aromatic, spicy-sweet grape varietal was born in Tramin more than a thousand years ago. The name actually means “the spicy one from Tramin”.

By the arrival of the Middle Ages, the mountain wines of Tramin were sought after far beyond the Alps. In fact, they were of such high esteem that in the early 15th century legendary minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein penned a lovesick song about Tramin wines. His lips longed for the flavor while subjected to sipping lesser vintages during his troubadouring travels.

Today, you can find Tramin’s wines sold throughout the world, but there is no better way to discover their mountain-born magic than visiting its wineries. One revered winery not to miss while in South Tyrol is J. Hofstätter. After embarking on a tasting, you too will be singing praises of the wine just like Sir Oswald.

Out of the Cellar

tenuta j hofstatter winery

The roots of the J. Hofstätter began in the early 1900s within a humble cellar of a small inn operated by Josef and Maria Hofstätter in Tramin. Josef’s winemaking aspirations soon outgrew the cellar and in 1907 he founded the J. Hofstätter Estate Winery.

Josef’s pioneering spirit continued to flourish at the winery when Konrad Oberhofer and Luise Oberhof (the niece of Josef and Maria) took over after his death in 1942. Konrad and Luise elevated the winery’s quality production and began bottling the wine rather than selling it in bulk.

hofstatter winery history
A family of vintners. Josef Hofstätter and team capture a moment in time on a vine-drenched hill in Tramin.

In 1959, Sieglinde Oberhofer (the only daughter of Konrad and Luise) married, Paolo Foradori, the son of a winemaking family from Trentino. Paolo was immensely influential in shaping the future of the winery and winemaking throughout South Tyrol. Referred to as the “father of Alto Adige Pinot Noir,” he brought many South Tyrolean wine farms under the Hofstätter umbrella and introduced the “Vigna” classification which designates single-vineyard wines.

Now in its fourth generation, the winery has become one of the largest family-owned wine estates in South Tyrol. Paolo Foradori handed the operations over to Martin Foradori Hofstätter in 1992. He has taken J. Hofstätter to new heights and currently oversees 124 acres. Twenty-five of this acreage abounds around Tramin with additional vines grown on the slopes across the valley.

Where Mountains & Wine Meet

Markus Heinel, J. Hofstätter winemaker,
J. Hofstätter winemaker, Markus Heinel, is a talented oenologist who wears his passion for the craft on his face. His love for the vines shines through in the glass

Walking through the heart of Tramin the J. Hofstätter Estate is impossible to miss. Its colorful tower rises below a vast expanse of vineyards that ripple to the summit of Kastelaz hill. Stretch your eyes further up still and you will enjoy the sight of a spruce-speckled Mt. Roen, which watches over all at a height of nearly 7,000 ft.

According to the winemaker, Markus Heinel, these vineyards sit at elevations varying between 820 and 2790 ft. This allows the J. Hofstätter estate to optimally harness a host of microclimates and soil conditions in its production.

j hofstatter fermentation tanks
Spaceship capsules? No fermentation tanks. J. Hofstätter helped pioneer a more sustainable winemaking approach in Alto Adige by being the first to use concrete tanks.

Such diversity paired with innovation and a rare, unwavering vision to meet exacting standards has led to wines of international acclaim year after year. When it comes to producing exquisite wines, Markus made it clear that patience is more than a valued virtue at J. Hofstätter, it is mandatory.

Before touring the inner workings of the winery, Markus shared that it remarkably consists of six levels including a wine shop, wine bar, restaurant, and a cellar that is a must-see. An elevator brought us to the tank room where we encountered peculiar cocoon-shaped casks. Made of nearly eight-inch thick concrete, these innovative fermentation tanks were the first of their kind in South Tyrol according to Markus.

hofstatter wine oak barrels
The majority of J. Hofstätter’s barrels are Fench and Austrian oak made from trees that are 60-80 years old. The odd-looking barrel provides the winery with a view of the virtues of biodynamic winemaking.

Besides just being plain fun to look at, they facilitate gentle fermentation and support J. Hofstätter’s environmentally friendly winemaking process by preserving temperatures. The concrete tanks are more energy-efficient and naturally cool the wine as well as facilitate better settling, which is the process of removing the solids from the pressed grapes.

The result is smoother wine that also requires less time to age in oak barrels. Markus hand picks the oak barrels that fill J. Hofstätter’s cellar. We walked past row after row of these maturing treasure chests before stopping at one that had a window. Markus shared that this odd barrel is another example of the winery’s drive to continuously discover new ways to produce even more exquisite wines. The glass pane allows him to study biodynamic winemaking, which theorizes that phases of the moon impact wine quality.

An Inspired Wine Portfolio

After visiting the cellar Markus led us to the elevator again where we ascended into heaven. Well not actually, but the tasting room was set up beautifully to let us sip a bit of paradise.

j hofstatter wine portfolio

The J. Hofstätter wine portfolio comprises 15 whites and 12 reds with a primary focus on five of the traditional local varieties: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Lagrein, and Vernatsch. The wines fall into one of three lines: Classic, Selection and Single-vineyard.

The Classic wines exhibit the typical varietal character of Alto Adige wines. Selection wines, on the other hand, are produced from carefully selected grapes and include a red blend and a white blend.

j hofstatter vigna wines
The story of “Vigna” is written on the walls of J. Hofstätter.

J. Hofstätter’s Single-vineyard wines are the pinnacle of the portfolio. They embody the winery’s most treasured vineyards and are born from grapes sourced from a single historic plot.

Markus noted these wines include the word “Vigna” on the label which certifies the wine originates from grapes ripened in single demarcated vineyards. As we noted above, J. Hofstätter’s Paolo Foradori pioneered this classification setting a quality standard for premium Alto Adige wines.

Single-vineyard wines stand apart in the wine world as they represent the ultimate expression of their terroir — the defining characteristics captured from a grape varietal’s natural environment. J. Hofstätter is passionate about a wine’s origin and continues to inspire the pursuit of the Vigna classification throughout South Tyrol.

Tasting J. Hofstätter Wines

Our tasting with Markus included sampling five of J. Hofstätter’s most renowned wines.

We began with Pinot Blanc (also known as Pinot Bianco and Weissburgunder) — a star white of Alto Adige. Markus informed us that Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir. It is a true cool-climate grape thriving at elevations up to 2,600 ft.

hofstatter barthenau pinot bianco wine

J. Hofstatter’s Barthenau Vigna S. Michele Pinot Blanc originates from the winery’s Barthenau estate at an elevation of almost 1,500 ft. It was delightfully crisp and rich with delicious notes of apple, pear and almond. An elegant stunner that would do wonders on a hot summer day.

The Pinot Blanc was followed up with the estate’s Joseph Gewürztraminer from their Selection series. Markus shared that this is their textbook Gewürztraminer —  showcasing all the classic attributes of the wine: full-bodied with a bright straw yellow color, a powerful aromatic character of rose petals and ginger with a vibrant and long finish.

hofstatter gewurtztraminer tasting

Next, Markus poured the estate’s Single-vineyard Gewürztraminer: Kolbenhof. This deep golden beauty is made from select grapes grown in the family’s steep Kolbenhof vineyard, which is in the hamlet of Söll overlooking Tramin. It possesses an enthralling fruit intensity and aromas that win your heart before even tipping the glass to your nose. In the mouth, it was uniquely lush with a long elegant finish.

We followed up the Gewürztraminer tasting with the winery’s selection of Pinot Nero (more commonly known as Pinot Noir). The first Pinot sampled was the Riserva Mazon. It hails from the other side of the Adige Valley on a slope known as Mazon. Grown here, the grapes benefit from a beaming evening sun and the cooling effects of the “Ora” winds bestowed from Lake Garda to the south.

j hofstatter pinot noir
Our favorite of the tasting, the Barthenau Vigna San Urbano put Italy on the map for great Pinot Noirs.

The Mazon Riserva is a full-bodied, deep red elegant Pinot Nero. The wine’s extensive aging in oak barrels imparts a wild fruity aroma with a velvety smooth feel that almost massages the mouth.

ludwig barth von barthenau
J. Hofstätter honors Ludwig Barth von Barthenau with a bust in the winery.

Our last wine with Markus was another Pinot Nero from the Mazon estate. This one stole the show. The Barthenau Vigna San Urbano is a dark ruby gem whose fruit-driven style with hints of vanilla and chocolate has made the Mazon estate the most celebrated vineyard for Pinot Nero in Italy.

The name of the wine pays homage to Ludwig Barth von Barthenau, a professor who introduced the Pinot Nero variety to Alto Adige in the late 19th century. J. Hofstätter has masterfully continued this gentleman’s vision by producing a Pinot Nero that ranks among the best in the world. It truly personifies the attributes that make wine from Alto Adige so special.

Visiting the J. Hofstätter Wine Estate

Besides being a destination to enjoy delicious wines, J. Hofstätter is unique in Tramin in that guests can also discover the age-old art of viticulture. The estate’s Show Vine Garden flourishes with Gewürztraminer vines where you can witness how vintners tend to the vineyard from morning until dark.

Hofstatter Winery Tour
J. Hofstätter offers guided excursions through three of its picturesque vineyards. (photo credit: J. Hoffstatter)

In addition, the winery offers vineyard and cellar tours if booked in advance. Both include expert-led tastings that give you an intimate understanding of the special characteristics of J. Hofstätter’s wines.

The wine shop, bar and restaurant open and close at various times. But no matter when you visit Tramin, you should have no problem finding time to make the J. Hofstätter Wine Estate a part of your experience.

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