Alois Lageder (pronounced "ah-loh-IS lah-GAY-der") is the fourth generation of his family to manage this eponymous winery in the northeastern Italian province of Alto Adige. The region belonged to Austria until after World War I, which explains why many of the wines don't taste stereotypically Italian and why wine labels are written in German as well as Italian.
Lageder has explained the dichotomy this way, saying Alto Adige's wines combine "the richness and body of the south with the elegance and finesse of the north." Now, he's moving to add a third factor to his wines: biodynamic agriculture.
Think of biodynamic as beyond organic. Based on the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and scientist, biodynamic farming is a method that calls for the creation of a complete, self-contained ecosystem by introducing a variety of animals and plants to the landscape. Biodynamic agriculture encourages good grapes without the winemaker having to resort to chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
While some remain skeptical of the method, especially some of its more New Age-y aspects, a growing number of winemakers are looking into it.
Enter Lageder's Beta Delta, a blend of chardonnay and pinot grigio made from certified organic grapes farmed biodynamically. The 2008 vintage, Lageder's second, is on store shelves for about $20. It's an elegant wine, smooth and fragrant.
Lageder plans to expand his biodynamic holdings. He's working to have all his estate and single vineyard wines certified as biodynamic. They'll be grouped under a new label in 2010 called Tenutae Lageder. The price range will be $20 to $75 a bottle. His classic wines, sourced from other grape growers, will continue to be non-biodynamic and will be sold under the Alois Lageder line. List price will range from $14 to $25.
In a telephone interview from Italy, ageder explained why biodynamic agriculture is so important to him and his winery.
Q: Why a biodynamic wine? And why now?
A: Biodynamics is my world. It's something I've been interested in for many, many years. The philosophy of Rudolf Steiner always excited me. My mother worked in that direction, not in vineyards but in a vegetable garden. Biodynamics opened me to this other world. You learn to see everything in a different way. In the 1990s, we thought to do some experiments in biodynamics. We were not successful, I have to admit. We did something wrong. We needed more time. In 2004 we decided to convert all of our vineyards to biodynamic farming methods.
Q: Why should biodynamic wine be important to a winemaker? To the public?
A: The winemaker has a big responsibility. He has to be respectful to the consumer. His objective is to have very good grapes, healthy grapes. Today, too many winemakers are forcing the wines to have very high (critics') scores. That's the wrong approach. We have to produce wines that are enjoyable. With biodynamically farmed grapes, you have a more entire, more intact product. It's important to the consumer that there be no chemical residues. Biodynamic wines are more harmonious, more elegant, more expressive of the terroir and more authentic. The vines are healthier and more able to withstand heat stress, so they ripen earlier and have lower sugar levels.
Q: How did the name Beta Delta come about?
A: In the beginning, we wanted to come out with one biodynamic wine and see what sort of feedback it got from the market. So, we decided not to select one single cru, one single vineyard, and to select the best grapes from all the vineyards we own. We had to find a name. B.D., for biodynamic, is what we called it in the cellar. So we said, let's use the Greek letters, beta delta.
Q: Where do you want the Alois Lageder Winery to be in 2020?
A: I think we have big work still to do. Farm the vineyards biodynamically, and the more you work, the more you realize you are at a beginning. Biodynamics speaks from the closed circle of a farm, it never speaks from just one part like the wine estate. You should grow other products. You should have animals. Our objective is to produce other products and have more animals. If you can optimize the biodynamic product, you will make better wines. That's our objective for the next 10 years.
The wines of Lageder
These wines are generally available in the United States.
A series of wines in two quality classifications: denominazione di origine controllata or DOC, and indicazione geografica tipica or IGT. DOC wines include Muller-Thurgau, gewurztraminer, lagrein, lagrein rosato, pinot nero (pinot noir). IGT wines include pinot bianco (pinot blanc), chardonnay, pinot grigio.
Single vineyard DOC wines:
•Haberle pinot bianco
•Benefizium Porer pinot grigio
•Lehen sauvignon blanc
•Vogelmeier moscato giallo
•Romigberg Kalterersee classico
•Krafuss pinot nero
•COR Romigberg cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot
•Beta Delta pinot grigio/chardonnay
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