A Successful Revolution

A Successful Revolution

Hans Terzer, St. Michael-Eppan Winery: paving the way for quality and new varieties

From rags to riches: it is the quintessential American success story everyone has already heard of. Hans Terzer, who has experienced an extraordinary professional growth in Alto Adige/Südtirol can tell a similar story: from bottle-washer to one of the most thriving and influential winemakers, he has continued to play a key role in the Alto Adige Wine brand’s success over the past 50 years.

Yet, as Terzer himself puts it, he got into wine by chance. As a 14-year-old boy, he earned pocket money from washing bottles in a winery, took on smaller jobs and got a taste of the world of wine. “It’s how I discovered my love for winemaking," he says proudly.

After his graduation at the Laimburg College of Agriculture and a short time as cellarmaster at a research centre, he turned his passion into his career: a first job experience as winemaker at the St. Michael-Eppan Winery and his future started to unravel. When he was only 21 years old, he took on a risky venture: Alto Adige was amidst a wine crisis; and the winery was up to its neck in debt. At that time, the wine cellar established a quantity instead of quality mindset, which was sadly low. “My first task was to make a flawless wine,” he recalls.

Hans Terzer, however, is not one who settles for second best; even back then he raised his standards – which were already high though. He visited vineyards and cellars and broke widespread taboos among winegrowers of that era.

Terzer’s motto is “less is more.” For winegrowers, it meant reducing the harvest losses. What today is a matter of course was, as Terzer puts it, “an outrage". Only by using a carrot and stick approach he aligned payment with quality and ensured an effective selection process of grapes and vines.

The second taboo to be broken was around the Schiava grape variety. Alto Adige, once a territory of red wine, went through a transition from Schiava, which was the most cultivated grape, to white varieties. But Terzer’s gut feelings were right: he was one of the first to grow Chardonnay and Sauvignon in Alto Adige/Südtirol – he was among the first to choose quality without any compromise.

He was also one of the first to make this wine excellence visible in the wine assortment. Thus, in 1986, the first bottles of his “Sanct Valentin” line came to market, and besides taking St. Michael-Eppan Winery to a next level in the top-end gastronomy and specialized trade, it drew the interest and enthusiasm of worldwide wine critics.

Giving a 21-year-old newcomer trust was a courageous decision made by the St. Michael-Eppan Winery in 1977, and with hindsight, the best choice. It was also a win-win for the Alto Adige wine world. Today, around 50 vintages later, even the protagonist of this success story looks back in amazement, and in disbelief.

And like a forward-thinking leader he asserts: “What I would like to pass on to my successors is respect for what Mother Earth gives us above all,” says Hans Terzer today. “Excellent grape quality, which should then reflect this extraordinary landscape in a bottle.”
Another taste?
More from the world of Alto Adige wine
Back to the list
Impressions of Wine:Experienced, enjoyed, shared
Always up to date with the Suedtirol Wein newsletter