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Q&A With OG Natural Winemaker Alois Lageder

by Kathleen Willcox

posted on January 06, 2020

Alois Lageder, a family-owned winery located in Alto Adige, Italy, was founded in 1823. When Alois Lageder took the reins in the 1980s, he began to institute biodynamic growing practices, and now his son Alois Clemens Lageder has joined him and expanded the brand’s mission of pursuing “quality” wine that exemplifies the authentic character of the terroir, while leaving the natural environment intact.

Dorsia: Alois Lageder has been on the forefront of the biodynamic and natural wine movement. How have consumer attitudes changed since the 1980s when they began instituting biodynamic practices?

Alois Clemens Lageder: In the 1980s, biodynamic production was more for a niche market. In the course of time, production guidelines have been developed, which allowed the producers and consumers to better understand biodynamics. Today, consumers are much more interested in biodynamics, for ethical reasons, but also for health reasons. Many people believe that organically — and biodynamically — grown products are better for nature and for their own health. Nevertheless, I think there is still a lot to learn about the meaning of biodynamics and how it affects agriculture and nature, both for us producers and for consumers.

Dorsia: How have your vineyards and wines changed through biodynamic growing practices? 

ACL: Yes, they changed a lot. We have cows and sheep grazing in the vineyards from September until April. The animals with their manure help to build up more humus in the soil and thus to increase fertility. This means that there are more worms, which in turn attract more birds. We also have many more different flowering herbs than before. Biodynamic cultivation improves the quality of the soil and the grapes. This in turn is reflected in the character of the wines, we perceive an increase in vitality, freshness, precision, and tension.

Dorsia: How do you define biodynamic wine?

ACL: Biodynamics is based on the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner. According to this approach, biodynamics tries to build a closed, self-contained farm organism, where not only the vine, but all components in the vineyard and its surrounding play a role, such as animals, humans, the soil, climate, and cosmic influences.

Dorsia: How do you define natural wine? 

ACL: For me there is no clear definition for natural wine. Usually it is an organically-farmed wine. It may or may not be based on biodynamic cultivation. Natural wine is produced as naturally as possible without any aids in the cellar. However, there is no legal definition as for organic wines (organic certification) or biodynamic wines (Demeter certification), but it is based on self-regulation.

Dorsia: What are the biggest misconceptions about it in the market? 

ACL: The greatest misconception is that biodynamics is often only reduced to preparations and moon phases. These aspects are also important, but it’s often dismissed as esoteric. I understand that this is often perceived as such by consumers. But if you look more closely at biodynamics, it can be very clear and structured. To me personally, it is important that biodynamic agriculture is not a dogma, but an inspiration.

Dorsia: Has your approach evolved or remained essentially the same (or have the biodynamic practices become stricter)?

ACL: The ideal of biodynamics is the closed living organism where cosmic and earthly forces are taken into account. It is an ideal to which one can come close, but one can never fully attain it. We do not want to say that we are a biodynamic winery, but that we work biodynamically. It is a continuous progress; we cannot remain the same as the nature we work with is constantly changing as well. We need to adopt ourselves to nature.

Dorsia: I understand you practice transhumance. Can you describe the practice and how you believe it impacts your winemaking?

ACL: As already mentioned, an important basis for the biodynamic cultivation method is the self-contained farm organism, in which the coexistence of people, animals, and plants plays a decisive role. Our winery has been working together with Alexander Agethle from the Engelhorn cheese dairy from Val Venosta for a few years now. After the summer, his cows and cattle are driven down from the Alpine pasture in accordance with the transhumance tradition. Instead of putting the animals in the stable, the cheese-maker takes those animals that will not be relevant for milk production this year to Römigberg, where the warm climate means they can find sufficient food in the autumn and winter months too. This way, the calves and pregnant cattle are able to spend all 365 days of the year in the open air. This alliance also allows us to counteract the problem of fodder shortage that a livestock farm often faces. At the same time, the animals help to fight against the monoculture in the vineyard and create diversity.

Dorsia: Is there anything else consumers should know about your wine or natural wines in general?

ACL: In addition to the family-owned vineyards we work together with 80 winegrowing partners from whom we source grapes. We try to motivate them to biodynamic agriculture through coaching and personal advice, but never through forcing them. Everyone has to decide for themselves which way of farming to choose. Today more than 50-percent of the partner vineyards are already cultivated organically or biodynamically. Our goal is a complete conversion to organic and biodynamic cultivation within the next five years. But we know that this needs time and patience. Biodynamics is not a magic wand, where suddenly everything gets better, but you have to deal intensively with the matter. It helps to broaden one's own horizon. You question the approach in the vineyard and in the cellar, but also yourself. This allows you to develop constantly.

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