High Altitude Wine of a Mountaineer at Castle Juval

Famed mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, grows grapes with the help of his longtime winemaker, Martin Aurich, in the way that he once climbed, at the limits of possibility. The dry, windy Unterortl vineyards are perched at 650-850 meters (2100-2800 feet) on the gneiss rock of the Juval mountain, facing south-southwest above the Val Senales, carved by glaciers 10-15,000 years ago.
valley view

First planted in 1992, the vines cling to the ancient rock of the mountain like the climber himself.
vineyard on hill

This is the lowest vineyard seen from above.
vine view above
As Messner notes in this interview, “…to remain creative, you have to change.” By 1986, he had become the first to ascend Everest without oxygen (1978), the first up Everest solo (1980) and the first to climb all 14 of the 8,000 footers in the world (also without oxygen). He was only 42 and set out for other creative pursuits.

A major new focus was to begin building six mountain museums dedicated to mountains and mountaineering. One is in the Castle Juval can be visited but not in the summer months when Messner is in residence. His latest museum, Corones, dramatically designed by Zaha Hadid, has just opened.

Another of Messner’s creative expressions is this Unterortl winery, managed since inception by Martin and Gisela Aurich. Martin, formerly a researcher in oenology at Bolzen/Bolzano, approaches grape growing and winemaking with the precision of a skilled alpinist.
Martin and Wife

The house, which doubles as the winery, has a decidedly Alpine aura.
cellar outside2

The former animal stall underneath the house is now the cellar. It is built directly into the rock of the mountain.
cellar w-rock

The high altitude vineyards are extremely dry, forcing the vines to grow roots deep into the gneiss rock in search of water. They pull in lots of minerals giving all the wines a distinct, dry crispness. Martin ferments all of his grapes in stainless steel, leaving the wine on the lees to absorb delicate aromas and flavors. They are all nearly transparent but each has its own character.

Glimmer Vino Bianco 2013
Youngest vines. Traditional blend of Müeller Thurgau and Flaueler (native variety).
From high vineyards 750-850 meters. Citrusy and light. (12.5%)

Müeller Thurgau Valle Venosta Alto Adige/Südtirol DOP 2013
From high vineyards 750-850 meters. Fresh, acidic. Gently aromatic with slight spiciness.
Good young but can age 3-4 years becoming more fruity. (13%)

Weissburgunder Valle Venosta Alto Adige/Südtirol DOP 2013
Weissburgunder is German for “White of Burgundy”: Pinot Blanc or Pinot Bianco.
More robust and rich. From vines twenty years and older in windy vineyards at 750-850 meters.

Riesling Valle Venosta Alto Adige/Südtirol DOP 2013
Dry, lightly aromatic wine with lots of minerality from vines at 650-750 meters.
Good young but can age. Becomes more expressive and balanced after 4-5 years. (13.5%)

Riesling Windbichtel Valle Venosta Alto Adige/Südtirol DOP 2013
Special wine made from only the first of two bunches on each vine: smaller, sparser, more taste and aromas.Lots of minerality. (13.5%)

Blauburgunder Valle Venosta Alto Adige/Südtirol DOP 2012
Made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in the old vineyards at the lowest altitude 630-700 meters. The wine is light, crisp and elegant with red and black fruit aromas and flavors. Best after aging at least five years.(13%) Martin ferments in stainless steel and then ages for a year in wood (60% barriques, 40% large barrels).

Riesling Speilerei Spätlese Alto Adige/Südtirol
Martin makes this late harvest, sweet wine for fun. When I visited in late fall, the grapes were just beginning to show signs of botrytis or “noble rot”.
2014-10-22 08.57.57

He also has a full distillery for making grappa, something I have never seen before at a winery. Most vintners ship their seeds and skins off to be distilled. It was fascinating to hear his step by step description of the complicated process. He makes grappa infused with all different flavors.

In this video, Martin Aurich talks about his vines and wines. He farms sustainably but not organically.

Read more about Alto Adige/Südtirol on the blog.
Men In Shorts
Dungeons and Dragons

On the map, Castel Juval is just south of the Austrian border and just east of Switzerland:
Juval map copy

Winery & Distillery Unterortl – Castel Juval
Juval 1B – 39020 Castelbello/Ciardes – South Tyrol – Italy
Phone+39 0473 667 580 . info@unterortl.it

Member of FIVI.
FIVI copy

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