65 Harvests – One Passion

65 Harvests – One Passion

Toni Rottensteiner, Bolzano: The terroir sets the course

If you are looking for a prime example of how far Alto Adige wines have come in the last few decades, look no further than the Hans Rottensteiner vineyard in Bolzano/Bozen. While the vineyard’s eponymous founder sold wine almost exclusively by the glass in the 1950s and 1960s, one thing was clear to his son, Toni: Quality would dictate the future. And if anyone knows, it’s Toni: He has been in this business for more than 60 years.

After training as an enologist in Wädenswil, Switzerland, Toni Rottensteiner joined his parents’ business, with the equestrian farm in St. Peter/San Pietro situated above Bolzano at its heart. The year 1956 saw the inauguration of the Hans Rottensteiner vineyard, with Toni being involved from the very start. Back then, the grapes were not only harvested by hand but also carried down the hill on the workers’ backs, and it was all about mass: The largest cask in the cellar at Rottenstein alone held 100,000 liters of wine. “Today this would make a great swimming pool,” says Toni Rottensteiner, who also recalls the product range of the family’s vineyard being rather small at first. “Back then, we only had three varieties stocked in our cellar: Santa Maddalena, Lake Caldaro, and Lagrein Rosato (Lagrein Kretzer).”

Step by step, however, Toni phased out of his father’s wholesale approach and started focusing more on bottled wines and, consequently, on quality – something he not only follows through in his own vineyard but also with the approx. 50 wine growers whose grapes are to this day being processed in the cellar of the Hans Rottensteiner vineyard. “That was a huge development,” recalls Toni Rottensteiner. These days, the Rottensteiner family presses no less than 24 different white and red wines; their focus, however, is on Lagrein and Santa Maddalena, which are varieties typical of the Bolzano region. Meanwhile, Toni’s son Hannes has taken over at the helm of the company, but the father still gives him a hand. “For 60 years, I’ve always been the first to arrive at work in the morning,” says Toni Rottensteiner. “I’ll open up and make sure everything is in order.”

In old age, it seems, Toni Rottensteiner has rediscovered his roots: He leaves the operative business to his son and focuses fully on wine growing again. That is not surprising, considering that life as a wine grower is everything that Rottensteiner sr. knows and loves. “Being a winemaker means to be able to track the grapes: from budding to blossoming all the way into the fall,” enthuses Toni Rottensteiner, adding: “It’s a wonderful mission to dedicate one’s life to.”

And it is at its most wonderful when it all culminates in a product which Toni Rottensteiner has been striving for for more than 60 years: a really good wine. But what exactly is a good wine? “Wine is a living product that has got to have a character which changes and evolves,” comments Toni Rottensteiner. And another thing: “A good wine is like a circle: It’s got to fill your mouth nicely and smoothly.”
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