A year ago, Freisinger Hof vineyard was the talk of Tramin in South Tyrol – not for its wine, but for the landslide of enormous boulders that rumbled 1,500 meters down the mountain and stopped at the Hof’s front gate. The owner took it as a sign and built a protective wall from the rubble.
Tramin is a famous wine village in northern Italy, famous for traminer grapes, more widely known as gewürztraminer. But the town doesn’t benefit much from it, because the vine can grow in many places, from Alsace to New Zealand. If someone orders a Traminer, it’s like ordering a seltzer: The wine can come from anywhere and is not defined by one place at all.
“What the Matterhorn mountain is to Zermatt in Switzerland, Gewürztraminer is to us!”
But locals believe the area should get more credit. After all, it has many respected cellars in a tight space, not to mention three distilleries. So this year they invited visitors for the first time to a Gewürztraminer hiking day – a kind of scavenger hunt between wine cellars for hikers. The purpose was to get some publicity and hammer home the significance of the sign at the village entrance: “Tramin, Home of Gewürztraminer.”
Yet “G’würzer,” as locals call it, is nothing that could be called complex. A wine writer once compared it to a luscious woman in a colorful, low-cut dress.
In the village square, the starting point of the wine-hiking tour, a visitor’s first impression is the stone-gray color everywhere. As if in a cubist painting, buildings tilt in broken, geometric forms. They follow the sloping ground, in part because of past landslides that turned doorsteps into cellar doors. Alleys end in rock as mountains to the west push forward into town.
Perhaps architect Werner Tscholl had these surroundings in mind when he built the new cellars at Cantina Tramin, on the eastern part of the village. It is a colossus of exposed concrete, covered in a network of bright green steel girders.
The host proclaims it the best wine for mornings, then recites a long Latin verse that compares drinking it to praising God.
Master winemaker Willi Stürz admits the design was “not uncontroversial.” But he is used to it, and has managed to develop it into one of South Tyrol’s top wine cellars.
There is hard work behind his Gewürztraminer. It is the diva of the vineyard and requires a lot of attention.
Today, the local winemakers stand proudly at their bars and serve passing hikers. It can get surprisingly thirsty along the 15-kilometer (9.3 miles) route. The region around Bolzano has the hottest summer in Italy, because it lies between mountain ranges as if in a kettle. Palms, towering cypresses, fig and lemon trees grow in Tramin gardens, and lizards scurry over cobblestones. Down in town, it is too warm for gewürztraminer grapes. They need the mountain wind, explained Mr. Stürz.
On this Sunday morning, bells are ringing throughout the village. Piety, winemaking and prosperity are still closely tied in Tramin. The world-famous winemaker Elena Walch receives guests in a former Jesuit cloister. In the old village center, a son of German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider designed a tavern almost 500 years ago. It is called Bethlehem and has magnificent frescoes, so one hears. But the owner does not want tourists. Tramin can be like that.
At the edge of the village, the hiking route ascends. Soon the first vines appear. Between them are wild roses, planted to divert insects from the grapes. Chickens don’t seem to work as well: At the next station, the Plattenhof, they run through vine rows like flaneurs down an alley.
Werner Dissertori expects the rush to begin about 10:15 a.m. in the courtyard of his Söll inn, on the outskirts of town. The theologian was mayor for many years and still has two jobs: winemaker and innkeeper.
“First a little glass?” he asks.
Already you can smell the distinctive Gewürztraminer, rather like the sweet, floral scent of fruit from a lychee tree. The host proclaims it the best wine for mornings, then recites a long Latin verse that compares drinking it to praising God.
The wine goes to the hiker’s heads, but inspires no piety. But Mr. Dissertori continues his spiel. He speaks of the healing power of his Madonna at the entrance: “It’s original – hand carved in Lourdes.” He also talks about his wedding, where 600 liters of Gewürztraminer flowed. And the talks about the time Germany’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger visited, before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
“He was a reserved character, but he liked my G’würzer,” recalled Mr. Dissertori. “He said, ‘Young man, that is a good wine for mass.’ And I told him: ‘Take a carton with you. Then you will become pope’ ”
The ex-mayor leads hikers up the slope to his inn. Soon it will have 60 apartments, with romantic views of Lake Kaltern.
“Now pay attention,” Mr. Dissertori tells the hikers. “The media like to quote me on this: What the Matterhorn is to Zermatt in Switzerland, Gewürztraminer is to us.”
The comparison seems daring, if one observes fellow hikers in the following hours – more epicureans than summiteers. Leisurely, they wander along the route, a taste here, a snack there.
Liking Gewürztraminer is not something that people admit to readily admits, because it is often seen as somewhat coarse in wine connoisseur circles.
But that might be changing, said Martin Foradori of the Hofstätter winery. Visitors who expect an indelicate Traminer might be surprised these days to find instead a rather elegant wine, Mr. Foradori said.
The largest private vintner doesn’t share the exaggerated enthusiasm of other locals. He complains about fraudulent labeling and colleagues who still make wines that are too light and sweet, too well behaved.
“It hurts my heart to say it, but the gewürztraminer does not originate from Tramin,” he said. Its true homeland might be Greece, Persia or Egypt, he said. There are many theories.
The day ends where it began, in the cubist village square, with Asian food and Gewürztraminer risotto on the table.
The namesake traminer grape is like one of the boulders that tumbled down in front of Freisinger Hof. It comes from far away, it’s unwieldy, and yet it’s here to stay.
Video: A bird’s eye view of Tramin’s vineyards.
The article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: email@example.com