Is biodynamic farming the new religion of Italian winemaking? Tasting Alois Lageder in Houston

urs vetterWhenever possible, I always try to meet up and taste with Italian winemakers when they come to Houston.

And so yesterday early evening found me with Urs Vetter (above) who’s worked for more than two decades as the sales and marketing director for legacy Alto Adige grower and winemaker Alois Lageder.

In my experience, Lageder’s entry-tier wines are always clean, focused, and very approachable and they represent great value. But it’s when you get into the higher tiers that the wines really start to take on character and depth imho.

alois lageder moscato gialloI loved the 2013 Moscato Giallo Vogelmaier, with its show-stopping aromatics, balanced alcohol (12.5% according to the winery’s website), and elegant white fruit. Urs said this wine should retail for around $25 in our market. Great wine…

It was fascinating to hear Urs describe Lageder’s evolution as a biodynamic grower and the “snowball” effect that it’s had in the appellation.

Magrè, the village where the Lageder is located, he told me, has been transformed by the ongoing process of conversion of both estate-owned growing sites as well as vineyards owned by other growers who sell to Lageder.

Currently, he said, roughly fifty percent of Lageder’s wines are Demeter biodynamic certified and the winery is moving toward 100 percent certification.

He also mentioned that Lageder’s popular Summa wine fair, now in its seventeenth year, is leaning more and more toward biodynamic farming as its focus.

The fair includes roughly fifty producers, he said, and while “old friends” will never be excluded, the organizers are making biodynamic farming a priority in selecting new wineries to be included.

One of the things that always impresses me about Italians winemakers’ attitudes toward organic and biodynamic farming is that they often embrace it not only as a means to achieve greater quality but also as civic and even moral responsibility.

Hearing Urs describe the many grape farmers who have “converted” in recent years and Lageder’s own conversion made me think about how biodynamics has become the new “religion” of Italian winemaking. And I mean that in both figuratively and literally.

Most young and middle-aged Italians that I know are agnostic. And I can only think of three Italian winemakers (in my personal orbit) who are practicing Catholics.

But when I hear Italian growers — young and old — talk about biodynamic farming, I often get a sense that they perceive it as a higher mission that fills a spiritual gap and fulfills a basic human need to give meaning to things that lie beyond our comprehension (even though I believe that some are more self-aware in this perception than others).

When I asked Urs about this, he said that yes, most definitely, there is a “spirituality of the land” that has emerged in the village of Magrè where Lageder grows grapes and vinifies its wines.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

That verse from Matthew often pops into my mind when I think about what life will be like for our daughters after we are gone.

Will it be the earth as G-d created it? It would seem that more and more Italian winemakers are working to make it so. And no matter where you stand, that’s a good thing.

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