Peter Pliger: Surprised by Nature in Alto Adige/Südtirol

From vineyards at 550-700 meters (1800-2300 feet) in the Val D’Isarco, Peter and Brigitte Pliger make white wines that sing with the spirited beauty of that place: layers of quartz and shale in the vineyards, snow covered peaks, misty mornings, bright blue afternoons, shaggy farm dogs and the Pligers’ warm generosity.

Peter uses natural methods, a combination of organic and biodynamic that defies easy classification. “I don’t do anything by rigid rules,” Peter told me. “Every year, Nature surprises me. It’s an adventure. I take what comes spontaneously. That’s what gives each vintage, its own characteristics and personality. And that’s what give the wine its energy.”

The Pliger’s house, Kuenhof, dates back 800 years and was once owned, along with the vineyards, by the Bishop of Bressanone (Italian name) or Brixen (German name). Alto Adige (Italian) or Südtirol (German) is the northernmost region of Italy. It borders on Austria, was long a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and only joined Italy at the end of World War I. Read more. When Brigitte opened this door to let me in, I felt like I was entering a clean swept cottage in a German fairy tale.
front door

Ditto for my visit to the cellar underneath the house with Peter. When he is making his wines, he doesn’t allow anyone in the cellar with him. He does all the work alone, himself. “I have my own relationship with the grapes and the wine,” he said.

Everything was immaculately clean and organized, but this belies Peter’s gentle ways in dealing with his vines and his grapes. Peter does as little in the cellar as possible, using indigenous yeasts and little or no sulphites.
botti grandi

The main event at Kuenhof are the vineyards. Some are near the house.
house + vines

But most are at higher altitude on slopes so steep, it is dizzying to look up at them. Peter talks about the terroir…

For subtitles in English, click CC.

The amazingly crisp, almost salty white wines of Kuenhof are born in soil that is rich in minerals from shale and quartz that was pulverized by the glaciers. Peter stopped to show me the shale.
2014-10-23 11.02.34

Peter has moved slowly but steadily from organic toward biodynamic growing methods, but he doesn’t follow any method rigidly. He experiments and responds to what’s happening. The vineyards are grassy, and he uses homeopathic treatments on the vines. “I’ve learned that plants are very much like people,” he told me. “You can’t change everything all of a sudden, but bit by bit, you can move toward natural strength and healthiness.”
grassy vineyard

After a morning in the vines, I sat with Peter to taste the wines:

Peter Pliger Kuenhof “Kaiton” Südtirol Eisacktaler Riesling DOC 2013 $30-35
Peter brought the first Riesling vines to this area and named the vineyard, Kaiton, which means “Woods”. At that time, there was no DOC so he used the IGT classification and the name “Kaiton”. (“Eisacktaler” is German for the Val D’Isarco, the Valley of the Isarco River.) The wine was very dry with the near saltiness that Peter talked about in the vines and a hint of citrus. Clean, fresh but still delicate and lightly aromatic, not harsh.

Peter Pliger Kuenhof Südtirol Eisacktaler Sylvaner DOC 2013 $25-30
Peter’s Sylvaner vines are older than the Riesling. The wine has a lovely persistence but is not heavy. The defining characteristic is still the minerality. I thought of the shale and quartz up there in the vineyards. The grape variety, which comes from Germany and Alsace, is lesser known than Riesling and makes a more structured, full-bodied wine. (Peter’s is 14.5% alcohol, but doesn’t taste “heavy”. Read more about structure.)

Peter Pliger Kuenhof Südtirol Eisacktaler Gewurtztraminer DOC 2013 $20-25
Peter’s is very dry, not like the fruity, semi-sweet versions you might have tried. He picks the grapes early before they get too ripe. Consequently, the wine is crisp, not flaccid or “fatty”. Delicious.

My two favorites were Riesling and Sylvaner, which I bought to bring home with me. The tall, slender bottles, traditionally the shape for these German varietals, are lovely.

To find Peter’s wine, try Wine Searcher Pro


Peter Pliger is a member of FIVI: Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers

FIVI copy

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Tags: Alto Adige, Bressanone, Italian natural wine, Italian organic wine, Italian wine, Kuenhof, Muller Turgau, natural wine, organic wine, Peter Pliger, Reisling, Sud Tirol, Sylvaner, white wine
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