If wine is indeed “bottled poetry” as it has been said, the five generations of family running the Tiefenbrunner Winery have composed a sweeping saga. Winemaking as a true expression of art has never been more apparent than during our visit to this celebrated wine estate.
Tucked between the ancient villages of Kurtatsch (Cortaccia) and Margreid (Magrè) in the hamlet of Entiklar (Niclara), the Tiefenbrunner Winery is among the oldest in South Tyrol. It sits upslope from the South Tyrolean Wine Road amidst a seemingly endless regiment of grapevines. They reign down in waves from the foothills of the Fennberg mountain plateau leaving no doubt: wine is the ruler of this bountiful land.
The winery itself was officially registered in 1848. But the winemaking heritage of the area goes back thousands of years to the Rhaetia period — 500 years before the ascent of the Ancient Roman Empire in the Alps.
From Castle to Cask
Tiefenbrunner Winery welcomes you from a forested enclave like a scene written to woo readers of a romance novel. The ornate story unfolding over the crenelated walls of Castel Turmhof, where the winery calls home, greet you in spellbinding fashion.
Any thoughts you are here only for a wine tasting, quickly dissipate. You realize Tiefenbrunner is as much a historic destination as it is a winery. It’s impossible not to be enamored by the antiquity before you.
After our arrival, we stood in awe studying the castle’s architectural details and bemusing murals before being met by the owner, Christof Tiefenbrunner.
The regal lines of the manor made us feel almost as if we were standing before royalty. But Christof’s gracious, down-to-earth demeanor quickly put us at ease. Christof and his wife, Sabine, opened a new chapter in the winery’s long history in 2000 when they took it over from his father who presided over its remarkable growth since 1968.
Before leading us into the heart of the operation, he gave us a tour of the estate’s grounds. We discovered the castle lorded over the cultivation of grapes since at least 1225 when it was first documented in land records as the “Linticlar estate”. The Tiefenbrunner family began its legacy at the estate in 1675 eventually christening it “Castel Turmhof”.
As we passed by a grotto with a waterfall splashing into a shallow pool, Christof pointed to fantastical sculptures peeking from rocky coves and nooks. His great-great-grandfather, Johann Tiefenthaler, beautified the castle with ponds and enchanting works of art more than 150 years ago. The figures from biblical and ancient mythology added a touch of whimsy to the historic site.
Vines a Thousand Years Wide
Christof brought us to an open-air courtyard where the winery burrowed into the mountainside. Grape leaves gilded in autumn’s gold swelled overhead toward the towering cliffs of Fennberg.
Growing demand for Tiefenbrunner’s portfolio of wines in the 1980s meant expanding the winery’s operational footprint. But instead of building outward they built downward; beneath the vineyards. By doing so, they were able to protect the historic value of the castle and its grounds.
Today, Tiefenbrunner cultivates roughly 25 acres of grapevines on the slopes near the winery along with nearly 40 more acres between Kurtatsch and Margreid. Together, they comprise 25 vineyards sitting at elevations from 820 feet to an astounding 3,280 feet above sea level. In fact, Tiefenbrunner’s flagship white, “Feldmarschall Von Fenner” Müller-Thurgau, begins its ascent to greatness from one of the highest vineyards in Europe.
Many of Tiefenbrunner’s vineyards cling to southerly-facing slopes where they enjoy a winemaker’s dream: dramatic temperature swings between night and day and loamy soil rich with limestone.
The effects are practically alchemic in nature. The warm winds during the day induce ripening, but the chilly mountain breezes in the evening stop it in its tracks conserving acidity. This phenomena paired with the artful tending of grapevines by expert hands allows Tiefenbrunner to ripen grapes with uncanny precision.
Christof shared that he also sources grapes from 50 or so small growers around South Tyrol including vineyards at the foot of the Dolomites’ Schlern mountain — perhaps South Tyrol’s most emblematic peak.
Whether planting new vines or cultivating old, Tiefenbrunner maintains close bonds with each grower ensuring the distinct personality of the plot comes to full fruition in the most environmentally sound manner possible. Its eco-minded commitment to winemaking is not a reflection of the latest feel-good fad, but a part of Tiefenbrunner’s heritage and principal operating philosophy. For more than 100 years, the winery has sustainably obtained all of its electricity through its own hydropower plant.
Beneath the Crown of Gold
We followed Christof into the winery where he walked us through its bottling and packaging operation. From there, we entered Tiefenbrunner’s winemaking cellars. Here, he stressed the lengths Tiefenbrunner goes to imprint the terroir’s character on each grape varietal.
The winery transforms its grape juice into world-class wines through four vinification and aging practices. Vinification occurs in large stainless steel tanks, concrete vats and immense wooden casks followed by aging in French oak barriques as well as in the bottle. This allows Christof and his winemaker, Stephan Rohregger, to cull the definitive virtues of its wines with a demanding degree of accuracy and quality.
The result is excellence in expression year after year across Tiefenbrunner’s four lines of wines: Selection Vigna, Selection Linticlarus, Selection Turmhof and Classic Merus. Each line meets the discerning tastes of markets around the world with the Selection Vigna line representing the winery’s Grand Cru.
The first-rate quality Tiefenbrunner releases have not gone unnoticed by the wine industry elite. Renowned wine critic, James Suckling, consistently includes Tiefenbrunner wines in his annual Top 100 Italian Wines list. This is no small feat considering he samples 3,000+ Italian wines each year.
We ventured further into the winery to a 400-year old cellar that at one time in the castle’s storied history held cows. Any sign of our hooved friends was long gone as oak barrels now filled the cool air of the room. And certainly begifting us a much more pleasant aroma than in ages past.
Our tour continued up a set of stairs to another courtyard where a 280-year old yew tree gnarled toward the sky. Christof ducked us into a gorgeous stone-pine paneled room inviting guests to enjoy an assortment of local specialties from speck to sausages to cheese to homemade bread while sipping on Tiefenbrunner’s wines.
We then descended again beneath the castle to the Wolkenstein Cellar — an 800-old cellar where meat was smoked in medieval times. Tiefenbrunner has since scrubbed away the centuries-old remnants of wood fires making the cavernous room now a place to taste wines amid the ambiance of ancient stones.
A Tale of Five Wines
After the fascinating tour deep beneath South Tyrol, Christof brought us to Tiefenbrunner’s wine shop located across from the castle. A quaint two-story building, it reminded us of an old-world storefront complete with an artist’s loft above — a natural setting to further discover the tale of its wines.
The first thing we noticed next to our tasting table was four glass cylinders filled with soil. We found them an ingenious touch to help tell the story of Tiefenbrunner. Short of trekking to each plot with a shovel in hand, they made grasping the variety of soil types easier to understand.
For the tasting, Christof led us on a journey through all four wines comprising Tiefenbrunner’s Selection Vigna line followed by a tasting of its Lagrein Riserva from its Selection Linticlarus line.
Tiefenbrunner launched the Vigna line to showcase its single-vineyard wines, which as Christof noted: “transmits the terroir best in the glass.” They are celebrated for perfectly balancing elegance with a deep richness of fruit flavors.
Rachtl Sauvignon Blanc Riserva
If gracefulness in wine has ever been an elusive descriptor for you, pour a glass of Tiefenbrunner’s Rachtl Sauvignon Blanc. Its meaning will crystallize on your nose and in your mouth. The wine takes you by the hand leading you gently across the dance floor, but before the song is over it has you effortlessly enraptured in the tango.
Its grapes arise from a vineyard nestled at the foot of Schlern mountain where the sandy soil possesses high salt levels and limestone rock born from the Dolomites themselves. This imparts an initial flint-like aroma that eases into fruity notes of dry hay and exotic fruit.
The wine ages for 11 months in oak and another year in the bottle before release. As a Sauvignon Blanc “raised by the Dolomites”, it makes a delicious gift for the hiker in your life. Its price begins at $59.
Feldmarschall Von Fenner Müller-Thurgau
This white is a sterling example of what we love about the world of wine: the story a bottle tells. And while we may be biased, no bottle can spin a better tale than the wines from South Tyrol.
The Feldmarschall Von Fenner Müller-Thurgau is quite the epic. The wine is named after Franz Philipp Freiherr von Fenner, an Austrian field marshall who founded the Tyrolean Imperial Rifles, a regiment serving the Austrian emperor in the 1800s.
The grapes composing this legend grow at an elevation of nearly 3,300 feet above sea level on the Fennberg mountain plateau next to the historic summer estate of the Feldmarschall. This lofty height makes it the highest Müller-Thurgau vineyard in Europe.
Planted almost 50 years ago by Christof’s father, the vineyard’s altitude exemplifies how winemaking is an art. It is located such that an immense jutting rock face protects the vines from northerly winds.
We found the Feldmarschall Von Fenner a stunner from swirl to finish. Pure deliciousness reminiscent of a dry Reisling, but more complex with an energetic minerality. James Suckling referred to it as possibly the “best Müller-Thurgau in the world”. And the renowned wine guide, Gambero Rosso, awarded the wine its coveted Three Glasses prize.
With all that said, the label on the bottle alone is enough to entice us to purchase this high-mountain gem. No one should pass up the chance to unwind with a heroic military officer of old Tyrol. $45.
AU Chardonnay Riserva
Sipping this delightful number furthered our conviction that the only Chardonnays worth paying attention to come from South Tyrol. Well, at least that is how we see it.
The AU Chardonnay was pleasantly dry with a well-rounded body and ever tantalizing bouquet. Our semi-novice noses could not pin down the aromas. It was thoroughly exotic and intoxicating. In the mouth, we found it evolving with intensity eventually giving way to a nice long finish.
Christof shared that the vineyard where this Chardonnay is born sits directly behind the estate. The plot slopes under a pergola of vines that are 60 years old. He noted the wine itself can age a remarkable 20+ years in a cellar. It starts at $59.
Toren Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva
While white wines comprise roughly 70% of Tiefenbrunner’s production, reds are not any less important to the winery. Producing Toren Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva requires a rare perfect growing season before Tiefenbrunner will harvest the grapes.
We learned the name “Toren” is a Middle High German word meaning tower. The grapes thrive on a steep south-facing slope where the sun relentlessly basks the vines. The wine spends a year maturing in oak barriques followed by six months in stainless steel tanks. It then ages two years in the bottle. Tiefenbrunner has produced 2,500 bottles of Toren; however, only 2,000 have been brought to market.
In the glass, the wine was a thrilling dark red. One could almost get lost in its swirl forgetting to take a sip. It had an exceptional structure with hints of tobacco and blackberry. We enjoyed its velvety layers of dark-fruit flavors and were ready to carve into a steak after our tasting. With its limited production, it is naturally one of Tiefenbrunner’s more expensive wines. $69.
Linticlarus Lagrein Riserva
Our tasting with Christof fittingly concluded with a native red of South Tyrol from Tiefenbrunner’s premium line: Linticlarus. The name Linticlarus is a respectful nod to the area’s winemaking prowess going back to ancient times. It honors a former Roman fortress in Entiklar.
Before tasting, we admired its heavy ruby color and notes of black cherry, vanilla and lightly smoked oak. After a couple of sips, it sprang to life expressing lovely juiciness with smooth tannins and a slightly earthy finish.
This wine came across as very food-friendly. A Lagrein we could easily enjoy with everything from wild game to pizza.
Christof noted their Lagrein comes from one of Tiefenbrunner’s lowest elevation vineyard and ages for a year in small French oak barrels. It then spends another six months in large wooden casks before aging another year in the bottle. You can pick up this beauty for $35.
How to Visit Tiefenbrunner Winery
South Tyrol does not lack wineries showcasing striking mastery in modern architecture, but there is something especially enchanting about sipping wine in a medieval castle perched below a mountainside. Even those who have little interest in wine will find visiting Tiefenbrunner Winery an alluring destination.
The winery lies in South Tyrol’s Unterland (Lowlands) region and is the furthest one south we have visited along the South Tyrolean Wine Road. Its location makes it the ideal winery to begin or end your day along the wine road. Set a gentle pace to savor the landscape. Between the steep terraces of vines, you’ll soak in speckles of meadows, forests and orchards.
In addition to visiting Tiefenbrunner, we highly-recommend breezing along the charming cobblestone streets of Margreid where you can see the oldest grapevine in South Tyrol. And if you are in South Tyrol during the holiday season, consider adding Margreid’s Krampus Run to your itinerary.
Tiefenbrunner Winery offers tours with their tastings, but you must book in advance. The winery and eatery are open Monday-Saturday. Hours vary by season.
If a trip to South Tyrol is not in your immediate future, transport yourself to the Tiefenbrunner estate by picking up a bottle. Their expansive portfolio offers wines to fit any budget. We regularly enjoy the Classic Merus Chardonnay. At under $16, we find it twice as good as its price tag.
We would like to give special thanks to Christof Tiefenbrunner for the enchanting tour and tasting!