A Love for Schiava

A Love for Schiava

Hartmuth Spitaler, Cantina Girlan: preserving tradition and quality

As a child, Hartmuth Spitaler spent most of his time not in a playroom, but in the cellars of the Cantina Girlan. He grew up in a family of winemakers, and, when he was little, the winery was the place where he used to play between the casks and help his father Valentin, also known as Valtl, the cellarer at Cantina Girlan. “As children, we were free to roam,” remembers Spitaler, who cherishes his beloved childhood memories. “Every time I come down to the cellar, I’m truly happy,” he adds.

So it comes as no surprise that Hartmuth Spitaler has never lost this close connection with Cantina Girlan and “his” cellars. Quite the contrary: in the 1970s, he followed in the footsteps of his father and became the cellarer of the cooperative. During his 30 years on the job, winemaking in Alto Adige changed fundamentally. Winemakers and wineries alike built on hundreds of years of winemaking tradition and increasingly focused on quality, a careful selection of the grapes, smaller quantities, and forming a stronger connection with the terroir. Hartmuth Spitaler was one of the key drivers of this change.

And it was by no means a coincidence that he strove to advance a variety that had a long tradition in Alto Adige’s wine-growing business. “For me, it was always important to focus on Schiava vines,” emphasizes Spitaler. And that was not just because of his own passion. “I felt bound by tradition,” says Spitaler, who worked as the cellarer and chairman of Cantina Girlan for many years, “and committed to the many generations of wine growers who made their living thanks to this variety.”

The Schiava (Vernatsch) always played an important role in Spitaler’s life, not just during his time as a cellarer, but also as a winemaker. The Gschleier vineyard offered the best possible conditions for this ancient variety: the barren soils produced smaller grapes, which could then be turned into marvelously intense wines. But that required some hard work. “We harvested two or three times, and only the best grapes,” Spitaler reminisces. “It was amazing to see the difference in quality, which made it very easy for us to believe in the potential of Schiava vines.”

Preserving this special variety as a cultural asset of Alto Adige winemaking tradition and continuously improving the vines was the mission that Hartmuth Spitaler soon dedicated his life to: as a winemaker, as a cellarer, and in his role as chairman of the Cantina Girlan winery. This mission becomes most evident whenever Spitaler is out in the vineyard, especially during harvest season. “At the end of a year full of hard work, this is the highlight of the season: the grapes are picked by hand and selected carefully by looking at each individual grape before delivering the different grades of quality to the wineries,” explains Spitaler. The entire family comes out to help. And the family not only helps with the work but shares the joy and happiness at the end of a successful wine harvesting season. And they also share his passion for Schiava. It seems that this variety is in the best of hands with the Spitaler family. For many generations past. And for many generations to come.
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