Some sights enthrall immediately. They captivate alone with their beauty. Or even with just a soft whisper of their history. Yet the ones that always grip the most are those that entrance you with their mystery.
Such is the winery of Cantina Tramin. Crowning a vine-drenched hilltop overlooking the tantalizing blue waters of Lake Caldaro, the winery is a South Tyrolean sight to behold all on its own. If its evocative design doesn’t stir wonder inside you, check your pulse.
So eclectic is its exterior, Cantina Tramin can’t help but demand the attention of everyone along the South Tyrolean Wine Road. It certainly demanded ours — capturing our eyes before our hearts.
An Unforgettable Encounter
We first came across Cantina Tramin (Kellerei Tramin in German) two years ago while breezing from one wine village to the next. The striking structure of the winery amid the rolling foothills was impossible to ignore. Almost hypnotic. And most definitely a magnet for curious souls like ourselves.
As we had little time between our next scheduled stop, we swung in for a quick look at what appeared to be a modern day temple built to honor the Ancient Roman god of wine. That quick look turned into a glass of Gewürztraminer recommended to both of us. We surrendered. The sprawling panoramic view unfolding before our eyes from the winery’s terrace was too alluring to not let its wine grace our lips.
We promised ourselves to make a return visit. And this past year we were fortunate to receive a grand behind-the-scenes tour and tasting as impressive as the building itself.
Cultivating a Culture of Cooperation
Our tour began with Sigrid Pichler, brand ambassador of Cantina Tramin. Her enthusiasm for the winery was contagious. She even commented wine was in her blood as she gave us a sweeping history of Cantina Tramin. We didn’t doubt it.
The winery began in 1898 at the helm of Christian Schrott, a parish priest of the picturesque village of Tramin and member of the Austrian parliament. Schrott helped pioneer a thriving cooperative culture that today includes 300 individual winegrowers cultivating 260 hectares (picture roughly 260 baseball or rugby fields) of vineyards.
These vineyards tumble down steep slopes around the nearby villages of Tramin, Neumarkt, Montan and Auer. Some flourish at heights reaching nearly 3,000 feet.
All of the vines enjoy the benefits of strong temperature swings between day and night. The warmth emanating from Lake Garda to the south and Lake Caldaro to the north begift the grapes sweet-inducing daytime heat relieved by the settling of cool Alpine air in the evenings.
Additionally, the north-south orientation of the mountains allows warm air to flow in from the south during the day. At night brisk winds from the Roen mountain descend almost 7,000 feet onto the valley, dramatically influencing the nighttime temperatures. This allows the grapes to rest. Ultimately contributing to well structured and balanced wines with heavenly aromas.
Cantina Tramin also keeps the grapes on the vines well into autumn, which draws in even more aroma into its vintages.
Each winegrower in the cooperative owns less than a hectare on average. Such small scale vineyards enable Cantina Tramin to produce wines of superior quality thanks to the deep-rooted knowledge the winegrowers possess of their land.
The winery works closely with the growers to optimize each plot sometimes down to even tailoring individual rows. By paying attention to the finest details, Cantina Tramin avoids losing the flavor and acidity cultivated over a season. The result? Wine that is immensely pleasant to drink harvest after harvest.
Excellence from Vine to Bottle
While a strong working relationship with the winegrowers is paramount to the winery’s success, it takes the leadership and vision of a winemaker to bring it all together. Cantina Tramin is fortunate to have one of the best in the world. Wilhelm (Willi), director of winemaking, joined the winery in 1992.
A native of the village of Tramin, he knows the pulse of the area’s vineyards through and through. Willi’s winemaking philosophy has elevated Cantina Tramin’s wines to a class of excellence few can match while also helping Alto Adige / South Tyrol shine as a star producer of high-quality wines.
His unique ability to capture the soul of the land in every bottle of Cantina Tramin wine was recognized in 2004 when the renowned Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most trusted wine guide, awarded him Italian Winemaker of the Year.
The recognition of superior quality has continued. Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, recently awarded the winery’s Epokale Gewürztraminer 100-points — making it the first white wine in Italy to receive such a rating. To give you an idea of the significance of this accomplishment, consider that Robert Parker has tasted 35,000+ Italian wines as a wine critic over 30 years and has awarded 100 points to only 14 of them!
Ripe with Creativity & Tradition
The winery took on its current enigmatic form in 2010. Werner Tscholl, a prominent architect from South Tyrol’s Vinschgau region, designed two additional wings to the existing winery. Tscholl’s final product is a masterpiece in contrasts.
Emulating the contours of vines through glass and steel, Cantina Tramin at once harmonizes with its surroundings while exhibiting its own eye-arresting beauty. The building nicely complements the winery’s winemaking approach by celebrating tradition and creativity.
This marriage between the future and the past is evident in the winery’s portfolio. Sigrid explained how Cantina Tramin splits its wines into two categories: proprietary blends and single varietal. The wines making up the proprietary blend comprise two or more varietals and express Willi’s creative orchestration with respect to each vineyard.
The single varietal wines, on the other hand, reflect the character of the specific grape variety culminating into an ultimate expression of the region. Within both categories, Cantina Tramin offers a Classic Series and a Selections Series of wines.
The Classic Series is where you will find high-quality wines at an excellent value while the Selections Series represents the finest wines Cantina Tramin offers.
Within the Cellars of Cantina Tramin
When Sigrid concluded her spirited introduction to the winery she handed us off to Günther Facchinelli, Cantina Tramin’s public relations and communication manager. Günther passionately shared how the operational side of the winery contributes to producing intensely aromatic wines — a quality characteristic Cantina Tramin has become well known for in the wine world.
Part of the secret lies in treating each grape like a hand-picked precious gem. Upon delivery to the winery, grapes gently ride a conveyor belt to the grape press as opposed to direct handling. This helps preserve their delicate nature ensuring Cantina Tramin can reap the full potential of each grape. After the pressing, the grapes begin vinification.
To show us how Cantina Tramin performs the alchemic magic of transforming grape juice into wine, Günther led us to the lower level of the winery. Here, we walked into a fermentation cellar unlike we had ever seen. The fermentation tanks were hidden behind a wall clad with white tiles, which imparted a cool retro look.
However, the retro vibe was not by design. We found out the tanks were installed when the original building was erected in the 1970s. To preserve the foundation of the building during the recent renovation, Cantina Tramin kept the tanks in place but had some relined with stainless steel — a job not fit for anyone prone to claustrophobia as they had to be refurbished from within.
Günther informed us these tanks are where Cantina Tramin ferments its Lagrein, Merlot and Pinot Nero grapes. The vinification process is monitored closely by man and machine. Precise measurement and control of the fermenting climate allow the winery to prevent unwanted evaporation thus elevating the aromatic quality of its wines.
We followed Günther into another part of the cellar where rows of stainless steel fermentation tanks stood side-by-side like beaming performers on a stage. These types of tanks were more familiar to our eyes. This is where Cantina Tramin’s award-winning whites continue their journey to juicy elegance.
The tanks were at one time larger, but when Willi became the winemaker 30 years ago he switched to smaller tanks. By using smaller tanks, Cantina Tramin can vinify grapes from specific climate zones separately. The potential and the distinctiveness of each micro-area is thus better understood. This helps the winery orient towards ever higher quality with a finer character expression of each individual varietal.
After touring the fermentation cellars, Günther brought us to a new addition within the winery’s lower level. Behind towering walls of glass fit for a James Bond film set rested dozens of bottled gems from Cantina Tramin aging until some appointed awakening.
Beyond this vintage bottle cellar, we entered a room cast under the soft glow of wine-red ambient lighting. Before us were mighty French oak wine casks followed by stacks of barriques. Günther shared that the new addition is not only for maturing wines, but also a space to host wine tasting events such as when they introduce new vintages. We certainly understood why. The atmosphere made us want to get lost in a bottle.
Next, Günther led us to a bottling area where machines hummed a steady rhythm as they produced bottle after bottle of Pinot Grigio — Cantina Tramin’s most popular wine for export.
This was our first time watching a wine bottling operation in action. The automated technology behind producing pallets of wine ready to ship was dazzling to witness.
Vine Meets Swirl: Tasting Cantina Tramin Wines
Günther continued our tour by leading us back upstairs to a tasting room offering the same splendid vineyard and mountain views we soaked in on our first visit. The beauty stretching beyond the windows was intoxicating.
But of course, the addition of wine in such a setting makes it even more spectacular. After consuming Cantina Tramin’s history and witnessing the story behind its wines, we were excited to begin the tasting. Here are the highlights.
Cantina Tramin Pinot Grigio – Classic Series. As mentioned above, this is the Pinot Grigio Cantina Tramin sells the most of outside of South Tyrol. We can always find it at our favorite local wine shop. The grapes are sourced from vines planted at elevations ranging from 650 to 1,300+ feet. They thrive in calcareous clay and gravelly soil with long days under the sun followed by brisk nights. Vinification in stainless steel preserves the wine’s fresh tropical fruit flavors and elicits the type of elegant finish we really enjoy during the summer months. On the nose, we caught hints of roses and cloves. It is excellent as a sipping wine or to pair with light salads and seafood. We have bought it priced at $15-$16.
Cantina Tramin Unterebner Pinot Grigio – Selections Series. Our first thought after sipping this top end Pinot Grigio from Cantina Tramin is it mirrors summer. Sprinkling it over snow may just be enough to usher in spring after a long winter. The wine gleamed more golden in color than the Classic Series Pinot Grigio. It was also a fuller wine offering a more powerful expression with aromas of pear, vanilla, toast and tobacco due to partial fermentation in oak barrels, which is quite a unique treatment for Pinot Grigio. The finish lingered beautifully. We were surprised to learn it matures for 14 months and has an aging potential of 7 to 10 years. Günther indicated the wine nicely complements smoked fish and white meats. The price on average is $35.
Cantina Tramin Troy Chardonnay – Selections Series. When we first saw “Troy” on the label we assumed an obscure grape varietal connection to the ancient Greek city. Never assume when in South Tyrol. We found out “Troy” means “path” in Rhaetian, an ancient language spoken in the Alps. The name is a fitting representation of the long journey Cantina Tramin has taken to cultivate an exquisite Chardonnay upon the steep slopes of Tramin.
A feat not so easily achieved in mountainous climates. The winery carefully harvests each grape by hand at elevations nearing 2,000 feet. The grapes then ferment in oak barrels resting on the lees for 16 months before maturing another 22 months in stainless steel tanks. The 2015 wears Alpine freshness on its sleeve showing abundant fresh apple and citrus fragrances. We noticed a pleasant burst of mint on the finish. This is definitely a Chardonnay we would give to any lover of the variety even at the price point of $69.
Cantina Tramin Selida Gewürztraminer – Classic Series. “Selida” means “small farmstead”, and reflects Cantina Tramin’s tradition of working with modest-size plot owners. The small origins of this wine payoff in a big presentation. We found it intensely aromatic with an equally intense yellow color. Its bouquet swirls with roses and mangos. Spicy and sweet in flavor, it would be a fun Alpine wine to sip with sushi. Selida is priced at around $13-$14.
Cantina Tramin Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer – Selections Series. The Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer from Cantina Tramin elevated the notion of fragrant wine to a whole new level for us. We noticed it right out of the bottle. Like the Unterebner, it is a more powerful expression in the winery’s portfolio. This wine whisks you through a garden of aromas and flavors from lilies and ginger to mango, peach, golden apple, apricot and melon. Günther noted Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer complements many dishes such as seafood and Asian as well as blue cheese. We thought it would make an excellent companion to smoked turkey. It is another white from Cantina Tramin that ages gracefully — up to 15 years. $40.
Cantina Tramin Epokale Gewürztraminer – Selections Series. When a wine becomes the first white in Italy to score 100 points, you better believe there is a story behind it. The Epokale Gewürztraminer is born from two of the oldest vineyards in Tramin and a whole lot of darkness.
Epokale ages for 7 years deep in a silver mountain mine near Sterzing at a height of 6,500 feet. The shaft of the mine gives Gewürztraminer a flawless environment to mature in over a course of years as it experiences consistent temperature, humidity and pressure.
The outcome of being trapped in a silver mine for nearly a decade is what can only be described as pure liquid gold.
The 2009 Epokale is the most unique Gewürztraminer we have ever sipped. Exceptionally sweet and smooth all at once. An exceedingly rare wine perfectly balanced to delight all your senses. Getting a bottle is not easy. It is mainly sold to restaurants and in only a few wine shops. Naturally, it comes with a steep price as well at $99+.
Cantina Tramin Maglen Pinot Noir – Selections Series. This high-elevation Pinot Noir stuns on the nose. We delighted in cherries and raspberries. It has a pale ruby color with a bit of a spicy feel in the mouth. The Maglen matures for 12 months in French oak, followed by 6 more months in massive oak casks. We would consider this a crisp, easy-drinking red and could see ourselves enjoying it with various pasta dishes. $40
Cantina Tramin Urban Lagrein – Selections Series. The top Lagrein from Cantina Tramin should be a part of your next dinner involving red meats lightly flipped on the grill, wild game or if you’re treating yourself to something as simple as pizza. This wine wows with its ruby color, velvety mouthfeel, fruity flavor with hints of cocoa and full-bodied structure. It matures for 12 months in French oak barrels followed by another 6 months in concrete tanks. After bottling, the Urban Lagrein matures in the bottle an additional 6 months. The price on average is $40.
How to Visit Cantina Tramin
To really savor the essence of these stunning wines, add Cantina Tramin to your South Tyrol trip itinerary. As you can see through this post, the winery is remarkable inside and out. Trust us, spending a day along the South Tyrolean Wine Road with a stop at Cantina Tramin is a relaxing break from hiking in the mountains. The winery sits directly off the wine road between the wine villages of Tramin and Caldaro.
The Cantina Tramin tasting room opens at 9 am Monday through Saturday. You can also book guided tours at their reception area or in advance by contacting the winery.
Of course, you do not have to visit South Tyrol to sip the wines of Cantina Tramin. The winery exports much of its portfolio around the world. And with 1.9 million bottles produced each year, there’s a good chance you can locate Cantina Tramin in a wine shop near you. If not, they can be purchased online at various wine merchants such as Wine.com.
We would like to give special thanks to Sigrid Pichler, Günther Facchinelli and Willi Stürz for sharing the story and wines of Cantina Tramin. Their extensive time with us is greatly appreciated!