The regal estate of Elena Walch beautifies life with a portfolio of exquisite wines and a pair of wineries that dazzle from floor to ceiling.
When one of Italy’s most celebrated winemaking regions boasts 3,000 years of viniculture, it’s hard to imagine there’s much room for improvement. Unless you’re Elena Walch.
In the 1980s, Elena married into one of the oldest winemaking families in Italy’s northernmost wine region, Alto Adige (also known as South Tyrol), a stirring Alpine wonderland alive with countless castles, storybook villages, lush valleys and the most stunning vineyards in the world. With her, she brought vision, paired with passion. And within a matter of years that potent combination saw Elena instill innovation into age-old winemaking practices — elevating Alto Adige wines into the realm of unrivaled quality.
When I first heard about Elena Walch I was instantly intrigued. How often are women celebrated for boldly challenging the status quo? Not nearly enough. Before we left on our latest South Tyrolean adventure, my husband, Vin, and I made plans to visit her estate. The trip did not disappoint.
A Village Lost in Vine
After finishing a late breakfast we drive about half an hour into the heart of Alto Adige’s winegrowing region — breezing past tempting photo opps and idyllic hillside towns along the South Tyrolean Wine Road (Weinstrasse). We eventually spot Tramin — a wine village seemingly lost in time and home to the Elena Walch estate.
We drive up the mountainside astounded by the lushness of the vineyards bounding toward the peaks. The road to Tramin appears to be paved with viticulture. We find parking on the edge of the village and meander through Tramin’s winding alleys toward the winery.
Tramin peacefully invites you into the past. Gothic German and Italian Renaissance influences dance effortlessly together from one cobblestone to the other. If we were here on any other day I would have let its seductive stillness transport me to the Middle Ages. I make mental notes on sights to revisit later.
The Art of Elegant Vinification
We eventually reach the Elena Walch Winery which to our amazement seems to sit in its own forest. Walking through the entrance we encounter fairy-tale-like grounds bringing to my mind scenes from The Secret Garden. We are also immediately struck by the touches of chic design gracefully interlaced with the estate’s historic charm.
Anna Marsoner, our guide for the morning, soon greets us with a wide, warm smile. We exchange introductions and begin our tour by following her to the winery’s newest addition.
We walk into a room with towering glass walls graciously offering views of distant mountains. Here, we peer into a massive stainless steel hopper connected to an automated grape press and de-stemmer machine.
Anna explains how the winery uses gravity to feed the pressed grapes to the fermentation tanks. She then invites us to follow her down a set of steps to get a better picture of what she means. Before we reach the bottom step we are hit with the happiest of all aromas — grapes becoming wine. Next, we are overcome by the spellbinding sight of Elena Walch’s state-of-the-art fermentation cellar.
The light shimmers off each stainless steel tank showering us in rosy hues. I half expect Prince to strut out from behind a tank and break into Purple Rain. Anna informs us Elena was an accomplished architect before her marriage. The divine aesthetics of this space leaves no doubt in my mind.
We walk over to an LED display glowing from a nearby wall. Anna’s hand dances over the screen showing us how the winery applies climate control technology to produce vintages to exacting standards.
Moving on from the new fermentation cellar we venture deeper into the mountain entering a vast room that looks to be a thousand years old. Here, more massive steel fermenting tanks stand against stone walls naturally cooling the cellar air. Staring at these vino-vinifying giants, we begin to get a sense of the vast amount of wine Elena Walch produces at the estate.
From Steel to Cask
Anna ducks us into a tunnel that runs to a dark cavernous area. It looks like we are walking through a passage that belongs deep within the belly of a castle. We encounter rows of French and Slovenian oak barriques masterfully aging wine into expressions distinct to Elena Walch.
She tells us the first building on the property was a Jesuit convent for 70 years before being purchased by the Austrian founder, Wilhelm Walch, in 1869. From here, we head up steps into another cellar where massive wooden casks surround us from all sides. As much as the new fermentation cellar gave us a peek into the winery’s future, these imposing wooden monoliths whirl us back in time.
The face of each cask bears the ornate craftsmanship of woodcarvers from Val Gardena, a valley in Alto Adige’s Dolomites mountain range. Every chiseled mark forges a story commemorating significant occasions in the estate’s history.
I stare at them as if I am in an art gallery. One can’t help but wonder how long it took to carve out such detail…and how these immense wine barrels were transported long ago. The artisans certainly did not roll them down the mountain.
The oldest cask dates back to 1878. But, the one I find most interesting has a delightfully mischievous depiction. Thanks to a poor translation, the woodcarver etched horns on a likeness of Moses rather than the intended halo.
The largest cask is born of Slovenian Oak from Croatia and holds 180 hectoliters. Anna quickly puts the number into terms we can grasp telling us it would take 65 years and 7 months to empty completely!
While admiring these historic casks, Anna informs us Elena Walch produces 500,000 bottles each year primarily from two nearby vineyards, Castel Ringberg and Kastelaz. In total, her vineyards comprise 60 hectares. Hard to picture? Imagine roughly 60 baseball fields flush with vines.
Continuing on we are surprised to learn hands pick every single grape that goes into an Elena Walch wine bottle. I am ready to volunteer. Anna also informs us the vineyards flourish without applying any herbicides.
Elena was among the first in Alto Adige to make sustainability a hallmark of her wines. This meant producing wine in harmony with nature and reducing the quantity to place supreme importance on uncompromising quality.
Taking such a position was initially met with resistance by wine producers firmly rooted in tradition, but the value of preserving vineyards for future generations has become a celebrated standard in Alto Adige thanks to pioneers like Elena. Nearly every facet of her wine production considers the environmental impact — from practicing sustainable cultivation to solar powering the estate to using corks from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
⇒ You Might Also Like: The Must-Visit Wineries of South Tyrol
Tasting Elena Walch Wines
As our tour comes to an end, Anna leaves us in the estate’s garden where a table with wine glasses radiates in the late morning light. We sit down and enjoy the sun pouring through the trees. In no time we are greeted by Karoline Walch, one of Elena’s two daughters actively working in the family business. Karoline and her sister, Julia, are poised to follow in their mother’s footsteps and one day lead the estate.
Karoline enthusiastically joins us at the tasting table. Her passion is immediately evident as she takes us on a journey through an array of her family’s award-winning wines. We begin with the single-vineyard Pinot Bianco “Kristallberg”, the grapes of which are grown at a height of 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet).
The vineyard’s dramatic temperature swings between night and day give the Pinot Bianco “Kristallberg” a bright crispness, mineral tones and a bouquet flush with green apple and white peach. After a couple of sips, I find myself indulging more than tasting. The wine sings with summer elegance and I make a mental note to serve this splendor at my sister’s baby shower in August.
After we finish sampling the Pinot Bianco we move on to the only Vigna-certified Pinot Grigio in Italy. Karoline shares that after five years a vineyard may apply for Vigna certification, which certifies the wine is born from a single, geographically-defined vineyard. Producing wine in this manner ensures the heart and soul of the land are personified in each bottle — a guiding philosophy of the Elena Walch estate.
Pinot Grigio is my personal vice, so I am especially excited to try Elena Walch’s Pinot Grigio “Vigna Castel Ringberg”. Its rich fullness and fruity aroma immediately impress as I sip. Now, I have two Elena Walch wines I must serve at my sister’s shower.
Naturally, I want more, but we continue with the Sauvignon “Vigna Castel Ringberg”. This wine equally pleases — perfectly balancing its Alpine heart with its French roots. My wine list for the shower grows by one more.
Next, we try Elena Walch’s Gewürztraminer “Vigna Kastelaz”, the most popular and award-winning wine in her portfolio. Translated, Gewürztraminer means “Spices of Tramin”, which is quite fitting as this northern Italian treasure pairs best with spicy Asian cuisine, seafood, cheeses and dessert.
One sip of Elena Walch’s Gewürztraminer and it’s clear this is a wine that demands to be noticed. It is immensely lush and intensely complex. A delight for both the nose and mouth. Vin says this is his personal favorite.
What makes Elena Walch’s Gewürztraminer especially unique is where the grapes are grown. All vineyards in Alto Adige face to the East or West, but Elena Walch’s Kastelaz vineyard is an exception. It is the only south-facing vineyard in Alto Adige. Here, the vines thrive on a steep 63-degree slope and enjoy cool Mediterranean winds from Italy’s Lake Garda.
While Alto Adige is best known for world-class white wines, the red wines from Elena Walch should be on your radar. The last two wines we sample are the Pinot Nero “Ludwig” and the Lagrein Riserva “Castel Ringberg”.
Recently named the second-best Pinot Noir in all of Italy, the Elena Walch Pinot Nero “Ludwig” is enticingly ruby red in color and delicately juicy. The finish is smooth with a slight tanginess. Definitely a wine I want to explore further.
Like the Pinot Grigio we tasted, the grapes for Elena Walch’s Lagrein Riserva come from the winery’s Castel Ringberg vineyard. Set on a hill off of the South Tyrolean Wine Road, the Castel Ringberg vineyard overlooks the hypnotic blue of Lake Caldaro. A castle built in 1620 rises from the surrounding vines.
We admit to Karoline the Lagrein grape is a bit of a mystery. She informs us it is a sun-loving grape native to Alto Adige and is a cross between Syrah and Pinot Noir.
In our wine glasses, the Lagrein Riserva showcases a deep red color. Its nose recalls an Alpine berry jam we enjoyed at breakfast earlier. The wine itself is robust with touches of spice and fruit and has a pleasantly long finish.
Karoline points out that it pairs well with venison and other meats. Vin comments he can’t wait to try it with the wild game in our freezer back home. That is a nice thought for him, but I am busy thinking about how we can stay longer at this heavenly place.
We conclude our tasting with Karoline, but before leaving the garden we enjoy more Lagrein and a savory plate of local specialty cheeses and cold cuts from La Verre Capricieux — a stylish bistro on the property.
Get to Know Elena Walch Wines First Hand
Our time at the Elena Walch estate was a truly inspiring way to spend part of a day in South Tyrol. Elena Walch’s impeccable wines are a delight not to miss. And touring her estate in Tramin is a must when visiting the region. Like us, you’ll come away with a deep appreciation for the eloquent vision and devotion to quality Elena Walch, her daughters and the estate’s staff bring to every bottle they produce.
Tip: When traveling the South Tyrolean Wine Road, you can also visit the Castel Ringberg estate of Elena Walch, which we mentioned above. It is located right off the road just a few minutes from Tramin. While there, you can walk among the rolling vineyards and sip wine amid stellar views of Lake Caldaro.
You can learn more about these amazing Alto Adige wines and available tours by visiting the Elena Walch website. Be sure to ask for Elena Walch the next time you are at your local wine shop.
If you are interested in discovering other exquisite wines from the Alpine regions of Italy, check out the below articles from fellow bloggers:
- Jill from L’Occasion shares Climb to the Top: Alpine Wines of Italy
- Susannah from Avvinare shares White Wines from Aosta Hit High Notes
- Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares Hearts on Fire: A Summer Tradition in Alto Adige
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares The One High Altitude Wine Region You Must Try #ItalianFWT
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Beef & Barolo, Two Piedmontese Darlins
- Jen from Vino Travels shares Vineyards of the Dolomites with 2013 Castel San Michele All’Adige
- Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog shares A Taste of Lugana; 2013 Tenuta Roveglia “Vigne Di Castullo” Lugana Riserva #ItalianFWT
- Gwen from Wine Predator shares Off to the Alps for #ItalianFWT
- Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares Unique Mountain Wines of Alto Adige