By Rick Riozza
No—this isn’t a salutation to some readily imaginable lively bacchanal festivity. Rather, this is my enjoyable endeavor to enter in on the “Women’s theme” for this edition of CV Weekly.
How fortuitous actually: As I mentioned a few columns back, we’re moving on from covering wine wise guys to the gentler wine wise gals, where I get to speak to successful women who are making a name for themselves in what’s typically considered a male-dominated industry. Already geared-up for the prospective interviews in the coming weeks, are Restaurateur Mindy Reed, owner of both Zin California Bistro & Alicante in Palm Springs, Megan Luis, Event Operations Captain and Sommelier at Marriott Marquis San Diego, and Jenny Wagner, Winemaker at Emmolo Wines & Wagner Family of Wines, Napa County.
To celebrate and start things off, I’d love to introduce you to an all-female wine producer, and, the wine they produce that absolutely accentuates autumn in a glass. The grape: Gewürztraminer; the winery: Elena Walch, Kastelaz.
Kastelaz is in Northern Italy that is located above the village of Tramin (the birthplace of Gewürztraminer) and has one of the rarest, most exclusive southern exposures in the beautiful and unique region of Alto Adige, whose chalky soils are best for Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Bianco.
The winery, started by architect Elena Walch, is an all-female affair as Elena and her two daughters, Karoline and Julia, manage the estate together. Growing up in their home just above the Elena Walch cellars, winemaking came naturally to her daughters. Julia earned a Master in Wine Management in Dijon, France; Karoline earned her Master in Wine Business in Adelaide, Australia—which goes to show her adventurous nature for sure!
I met the lovely and ever-charming Karoline (pictured above) in L.A. last year at a wine tasting, where she was presenting & pouring her award winning Gewürztraminer and Pinot Grigio. Karoline manages the US wine market for the winery but gets back to Italy often to join her mom and sister in the operations. “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my mom is to love your job. You dedicate a lot of time to work, so if you don’t love what you do then it soon becomes a burden,” Karoline says. “She shows us on a daily basis what this means. She brings enthusiasm to everyone around her and after almost 30 years in the business she still never gets tired of the work she does.”
Karoline continues, “My mom’s influence has been very natural, but very present from the beginning. I grew up on the estate and was able to see her working passionately right in front of my eyes. Her dedication and creativity, along with everything she’s accomplished, have made me want to be here and to do the best work possible.
“As with any family, our working relationship isn’t without its challenges. Obviously, we sometimes argue at the lunch table! But honestly, that’s when the best ideas come up. Discussions are our daily bread! With less hierarchy and a more familiar way of working, brilliant ideas seem to come up more easily—it keeps the winery atmosphere vibrant every day.”
Karoline was so friendly that she even called me over, as I was departing the event, and made me up a “wine tote-bag” to-go with wines from her private stash! Don’t you adore true wine lovers—they’re so gracious to share!
A wonderfully fun wine region for both enthusiasts and newbies to consider is Trentino-Alto Adige, the mountainous region that sits on the southern slopes of the Alps. Although completely located within Italy, It’s basically divided into two provinces: the Italian-speaking Trentino in the south, and, the German-speaking Alto Adige (or Südtirol) in the north. (And remember the jug white wine back in the day “Tyrolia”—they got the name from here.)
All of the winery’s vineyards are located in Alto Adige, which actually used to be a part of Austria, so its language, cuisine and wines are a mixture of both German and Italian influences. Primarily known for its white wines, Elena Walch Kastelaz grows a total of 13 varietals (six white and seven red) and makes 27 different wines totaling 504,000 bottles per year.
Over the last 26 years, the winery hasn’t only set the bar for quality wine in Alto Adige, it’s singlehandedly changed the winemaking landscape of the region by implementing farming techniques and winemaking philosophies other winemakers in the area now follow.
The famed wine, food and cooking publisher, Gambero Rosso actually has dubbed Karoline’s mother, the “Queen of Gewürztraminer” for having received the Tre Bicchieri award for her Gewürztraminer Kastelaz for over 10 consecutive years. Karoline is thrilled to be continuing in her shoes.
Besides being the one of the hardest grape varieties to spell and pronounce, its deep golden color and exotic & heady aromas and flavors of lychee, spices, flowers, peaches, and apricots are unforgettable. Kastelaz consistently provides intensively aromatic notes of rose petals, flowers and spices. The wine presents itself rich in finesse on the palate, with fresh fullness, harmonic elegance and a long finish.
Classic Gevurst is actually a “dry” wine, but with such a rich character, it comes off a touch sweet. Sure sweeter gevursts are produced world-wide, but with less than stellar results. Aromatic wines such as Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Riesling and others are so savory, interesting, and complex when produced dry, that they are perfect for the fall season and holiday table. Let’s cover these wines and where you can find them next time.
Until then—here’s to the ladies! Cheers!