Spend an afternoon in the South Tyrolean capital of Bolzano, and you just may find yourself wondering what is the secret behind the ancient town’s pervading “la dolce vita” spirit.
You might think it’s the 300 days of glorious sunshine pouring over its old world rooftops. Or the quaint romantic sights, markets and cafes dotting nearly every corner. Or you might think it’s the surrounding natural beauty: perhaps the distant spear-tip mountain peaks inviting discovery or the lush Mediterranean flora swaying carefree in the Alpine wind.
Yes, you might think all of this and more, but you’d be wrong.
The answer we found is wine. Lots and lots of delicious wine.
An old saying shared with us more than once while breezily strolling over the cobblestones of Bolzano is, “Venice may swim on water, but Bolzano swims on wine.”
This truth was never more evident to us than when we embarked on a tour of Kellerei Bozen — a 100+-year-old award-winning winery fantastically carved into a mountainside on the northern end of town.
In this post, we take you behind the scenes of Kellerei Bozen (Cantina Bolzano in Italian) to introduce its lovely wines and show you how to visit this must-see architectural marvel while in South Tyrol.
In the Land of Sun, Soul & Swirl
We meandered to Kellerei Bozen from the medieval core of Bolzano. It was a pleasant 40-minute walk under the mellow rays of the early afternoon sun.
The route led us past historic buildings boldly wearing centuries of Italian and German influence, well-manicured parks peppered with sun-loving patrons and bustling arcades adorned with restaurants and shops.
Gradually, the buildings became more sparse. Rock-riddled mountains rolling into the sky joined us on our right. Soon, we were gliding by vineyards gently easing up the slopes. Ahead of us, we noticed an immense bronze-gilded cube shimmering like a beacon for Bacchus amid the vines.
As we approached the tantalizing structure, we could make out the lines of a grapevine leaf gracing its metallic veneer. It imparted a sleek, stylish flair that made the building appear as a work of art.
A long concrete retaining wall swirled down from the cube meeting us the on the sidewalk where it transitioned into timeworn stacks of stone. On the wall, a sign for Kellerei Bozen announced our arrival.
The astounding design of the winery was fully revealed as we walked towards its entrance. Beyond the gleaming cube, it seemingly blended harmoniously into the earth. Most of the winery’s wizardry laid hidden beneath terraced rows of newly-planted grapevines that careened towards the mountain’s edge. If the cube was indeed a beacon for Bacchus, this was surely the god of wine’s bunker.
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Two Became One – The Birth of Kellerei Bozen
We walked inside the cube and found Johanna Senn, Kellerei Bozen marketing manager, enthusiastically waiting for us. Naturally, after admiring the winery’s striking design for much of our walk, we began our visit inquiring about the history of the building and Kellerei Bozen.
She led us around the winery grounds while sharing its story. Kellerei Bozen we learned was born from the merger of two historic South Tyrolean wineries. In 2001, St. Magdalena Winery and Gries Winery came together. The merger brought 224 wine-growing families into a single cooperative — creating one of the largest in South Tyrol.
Each winery possessed its own specialty. Established in 1930, the St. Magdalena Winery excelled at producing St. Magdalener — a red wine made from a blend of Schiava (also known as Vernatsh) and Lagrein grapes. The Gries Winery began 22 years earlier with a focus on cultivating exceptional Lagrein.
Despite the merger, the wineries continued operating at separate locations until moving to this new mountainside estate in August 2018. The new winery is the result of an Elon Musk-like vision that first began in 2006 and eventually took shape starting in 2016.
Johanna noted the signature design feature of the winery, the vine-leafed cube, artistically symbolizes Kellerei Bozen as a pioneering leader in viticulture innovation and green cultivation. However, the metallic sheathing’s purpose isn’t only decorative. She also shared that it supports the winery’s eco-friendly cooling efforts by filtering sunlight.
The Many Vines of Kellerei Bozen
Next, Johanna led us to the rooftop of the winery where we walked out to the cube’s edge. From here, we enjoyed a sprawling view of Bolzano with the Rosengarten peaks of the Dolomites looming far away on the horizon.
Johanna brought our attention to the sea of vineyards swelling to the edges of town. It was astonishing. Now, we knew why Bolzano is said to swim in wine. Vino practically pours down the mountainsides.
From many of these vineyards, Kellerei Bozen cultivates 15 different grape varieties yielding a diverse portfolio of 37 wines with an almost even split between white and red. These grapes arise from 350 hectares (865 acres) at elevations varying between 650+ ft. (200 meters) and 3,280+ ft. (1,000 meters) above sea level. They flourish among numerous microclimates and soil types.
Johanna pointed towards the sunny slopes rising into a mountain called Renon just beyond Bolzano. We landed our gaze on an area known as St. Magdalener hill. It is home to Kellerei Bozen’s Schiava grape. The sandy, gravel-like soil and abundance of sunshine make the steep slope perfect for producing easy drinking Schiavas that are elegant and fruit forward.
She then focused our eyes on the vineyards stretching near the winery in a district called Gries. This is where its Lagrein grapes grow. They thrive in the valley bottom amid porous, rich alluvial soil that basks under the steady beat of the sun.
Johanna noted Kellerei Bozen’s white varietals such as Müller Thurgau, Kerner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio lie in the highest elevation vineyards of Renon and above Bolzano, as well as further south in an area called Missiano.
We asked about the newly planted vines adorning the winery and were surprised to discover they are a new grape varietal called PIWI (A German acronym pronounced “pee-vee”). These naturally fungus-resistant varietals comprise a winemaking experiment Kellerei Bozen is conducting to see if they can viably support its sustainable viticulture practices.
Producing wine with the utmost respect towards the environment and future generations is a governing principle of Kellerei Bozen. Not only do its winegrowers labor rigorously to harvest the best quality grapes, but they also employ green cultivation techniques whenever possible to care for the vine, fruit and soil.
Wine From the Top Down
This commitment to sustainability does not end at the vineyard. Johanna proudly pointed out the new winery is one of the first in Italy to receive the “KlimaHaus Wine” seal. This certifies the state-of-art winemaking operation meets strict standards aimed at minimizing resource and energy use. To give us a better sense for what this means, Johanna brought us back inside to reveal what lies beneath the mountain.
By constructing much of the 65,000+ sq. ft. estate under the earth, Kellerei Bozen can cool its production and maturation areas naturally. For hot water production, the winery burns wood pellets — an efficient renewable energy resource that is carbon neutral. Even the processing of grapes into mouth-pleasing wine is accomplished with an eye on reducing energy use at each step.
The new winery descends several levels allowing gravity to move the grapes from beginning to end. This top-down or vertical production design ensures grapes gently journey through every phase in the most environmentally-friendly manner. Additionally, it enables Kellerei Bozen to elevate the quality of its wines with the ability to isolate individual plot characteristics through a number of vinification tanks and barrels.
As we followed Johanna down to the first level, she shared that the winery processes its white and red grapes differently. After making their first descent down from the dropping station at the top, white grapes are crushed, pressed and then transported vertically to towering steel fermentation tanks. Red grapes, on the other hand, after destemming and crushing pass directly to much smaller wood barrels and steel tanks.
The reason for this according to Johanna is to facilitate greater contact of the grape must with the skin. This process, known as maceration, means the red grape skins are left to soak in their own juices to soften and release the qualities that give red wine its color, body, mouth-feel and ability to age.
Furthermore, Kellerei Bozen uses a “delestage” fermentation process, also referred to as “rack and return”. After the grape musts, skins and seeds settle at the top of the fermenting container, the winery pumps the wine into a reserve vat. The remaining solids are pressed again with the wine ultimately poured back over the top of the re-pressed skins and seeds. This boosts the color, flavor, tannins and aromas of the wine.
Once fermentation is complete the wines descend ever deeper into the earth. Kellerei Bozen’s maturation cellar is located in the lowest level of the winery. Here, red and white wines age into exemplary form in vast rows of French oak barriques. The large number of barrels allows Kellerei Bozen to separate development of wines to bring about even higher quality vintages.
Within the Cube – Tasting Kellerei Bozen Wines
When we finished touring the cellars, Johanna brought us back upstairs for a tasting in the Vinarius wine shop, located in the gleaming cube at the winery’s front. It offers an enthralling setting to sip and browse Kellerei Bozen’s extensive wine portfolio.
Johanna began our tasting with two whites from Kellerei Bozen’s Selection line, which exhibits the best possible interplay between grape variety, soil texture and microclimate. We followed the whites up with our first introduction to St. Magdalener along with a tasing of the winery’s best seller from its Riserva line (can you guess which wine?).
Kellerei Bozen “Dellago” Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco). Pinot Bianco discovered its soul in South Tyrol. It was brought to the region from Austria in 1850. The superior soil conditions and wide temperature swings between day and night helped elevate the varietal to world-class esteem. The Dellago from Kellerei Bozen certainly lives up to these lofty expectations.
It hails from the Dellago family vineyards in Missiano to the south and boasts a long list of awards. We noticed green apples on the nose and found it delicious; elegant yet with a fuller body than we anticipated. Johanna shared that part of the wine is aged in French oak imparting a slight creaminess. Because of this, we could definitely see ourselves enjoying it with pasta or chicken dishes. It is nicely priced at $13-$14.
Kellerei Bozen “Mock” Sauvignon. This Sauvignon Blanc was a pleasant surprise. It’s a full-bodied wine, but drank easy. We immediately noticed a scent of elderflower, which always brings a smile to our lips. It was fresh, fruity, tangy with just the right amount of crisp. It’s a complex number born of all steel. Johanna indicated the Mock Sauvignon would make an excellent choice with fish, asparagus and salads. $25-26.
Kellerei Bozen “Moar” St. Magdalener. To say we were excited to sip St. Magdalener for the first time is an understatement. For us, trying new wines in South Tyrol is worth the trip alone. All the snow-crested mountains, centuries-old castles and pristine Alpine lakes are just cherries on top of a visit.
Johanna was our perfect tasting coach. She reminded us St. Magdalener is a blend of 85% Schiava and 15% Lagrein. In the glass, it was similar to ruby red, but in a way exhibited its very own distinct color. Almost as if it were a precious gem only found in South Tyrol.
On the nose and in the mouth, it was fruity, light and offered a medium finish. We enjoyed raspberries with a hint of vanilla thanks to its aging in oak barrels. We appreciated it as another easy drinking red. One we would certainly sip while nibbling on speck and other cold cuts or just while relaxing in the summer. $16-$17.
Kellerei Bozen “Taber Riserva” Lagrein. Not only is this Lagrein Kellerei Bozen’s best seller, but it’s also the winery’s most award-winning wine. It has received the coveted “three glasses” designation from Gambero Rosso for the past 19 years.
The Taber Riserva owes much of its beauty, inside and out, to 80-year old vines springing from the sun-baked soil of Gries, which practically resides right outside the winery’s front door. That’s not to take credit away from the winegrowers or the expert handling of Kellerei Bozen’s highly-regarded winemaker, Stephan Filippi. They contribute just as much to conjuring a Lagrein that is deeply red, intense yet velvety and possessing a roaring chorus of floral, cherry and chocolate notes.
We loved its earthy spiciness. It’s a wine we could uncork every night…if we were dining on red meat or wild game. $38-$40.
We wrapped up our time with Johanna by taking a little of Kellerei Bozen with us. We eagerly purchased a bottle of the St. Magdalener Moar. It was time we made ourselves more familiar with this delightful South Tyrolean red.
How to Visit Kellerei Bozen
You can reach Kellerei Bozen by venturing from old town Bolzano as we did or you can arrive by car or public transport as it is located immediately off the South Tyrolean Wine Road. Parking is available upfront.
On future visits to Kellerei Bozen, we will not likely walk to the winery again for the sake of saving time. However, if you have not explored much of Bolzano there is no better way to do so than by foot. Consider a historic trek to the winery as your first option.
By the way, an unforgettable way to explore the wineries of South Tyrol is to stay at one of the many family-owned wine estates with villas along the wine road. Check out our recent stay at Donà Winery for inspiration.
Kellerei Bozen offers guided tours for small groups. Tour requests must be made prior to visiting. You can embark on a wine tasting every day in the wine shop except on Sundays. The shop is open from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM.
Be sure to ask for Kellerei Bozen at your local wine shop. With 3+ million bottles of wine distributed throughout the U.S. and Europe each year, there’s a good chance you can uncork a bottle or two this weekend.
We would like to give special thanks to Johanna Senn of Kellerei Bozen. We could not have asked for a better introduction to Kellerei Bozen and its exceptional wines!