When the province of South Tyrol founded the Laimburg Research Centre in 1975, the Laimburg Province Winery was also established. Operated as part of the centre's estate management activities, it is the province's official winery, assigned with the task of carrying out research in both viticulture and vinification for the betterment of South Tyrol's wine industry. Success in winemaking makes further investment in pilot projects possible: Select grapes taken exclusively from the province's own vineyards are vinified and aged to make top quality wines that hold their own in the competitive market. Today, the Laimburg Province Winery is considered an international model of the successful fusion of research and practice.
In order to both produce and market wines of outstanding quality, high standards in both grape cultivation and cellar technique are called for. The winery produces some 2,500 hl of wine each year, for which the grapes are taken from various vineyards throughout the province, each with a different microclimate. Along with numerous "research varietals," fifteen "typical" South Tyrolean grape varietals are planted at the province's estate vineyards. Differences in altitude and soil composition contribute to the complex, distinctive tastes and aromas that distinguish the wines of South Tyrol's Province Winery.
In the 13th Century, the Lords of Laimburg built the proud castle, which served briefly as the high court of Caldaro, but by the 17th Century had fallen into ruin. The castle, not far from Lake Caldaro, lends both its name and its image to the Province Winery, which is located just outside the village of Vadena. The ruins underwent thorough restoration in 2002.
The stylistic classification of Laimburg wines as "Estate Wines" and "Manor Selection" is based on the winery's intent to bring out each varietal's distinctive character in the vineyard, and then, in the cellar, to develop wines with unique, fully-developed personalities.
One of the winery's goals for the last 15 years has been to locate a suitable microclimate for each grape varietal. Laimburg manages about 50 hectares of vineyards today in all viticultural areas of South Tyrol, some on level soil, others on hills and steep inclines, all with drastically different soils: moraine gravel and alluvial soils mix with bedrock and loamy limestone. The vines are planted at altitudes ranging from 200-750 metres above sea level and are trained using either the pergola or spalier (guyot) suspension system, depending on varietal and the incline of the vineyard itself. Since substantial care for the vines is necessary for the development of healthy, high-quality grapes, every effort is made to provide ecologically balanced surroundings for the vines.
With the local trend toward grape sales to various private and cooperative wineries in the 20th Century, understanding of suitability of grape varietals to historic vineyards among South Tyrolean growers was largely lost. Increasingly, grape growers produced whichever varietals the market demanded. Today, Laimburg Research Centre is working to identify the ideal microclimate for each varietal. This process involves experiments like cultivating specific varietals at varying altitudes and vinifying the grapes from each sample site separately. Some 20 different varietals are currently under examination for their potential in South Tyrol, ranging from exotic international vines (such as Tannat, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Incrocio Manzoni) to those with a longer history of cultivation in the area.
Laimburg Province Winery's aim in vinification is to carry all the best characteristics of the grape into the glass, retaining all the characteristics of the grape varietal and the vintage. To realise this objective, a harvest of healthy, robust grapes is necessary, and each individual varietal must be pressed and processed separately. Owing to years of experience and expertise in the cellar, nothing is left to chance.
Fermentation is conducted under controlled temperature conditions, and the wine is disturbed as little as possible during its development - that is, it is only transferred from one vessel to another when absolutely necessary. In order that the white and certain red wines retain their delicate flavour and elegance, they are allowed to mature completely in temperature-controlled steel tanks. Brief aging in large oak barrels helps refine the bouquet of youthfully fresh Kalterersee Auslese, Pinot Nero and Merlot. Tannin-rich red wines like Lagrein and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as select Pinot Nero undergo extended aging in small oak barrels (or "barriques") to fine-tune their structure and round out their rough edges.
By the end of the 1980s, South Tyrol's Province Winery required additional space for aging its wines, both in barrels and in bottles. This new cellar was blasted directly out of the stone of the surrounding mountain, a task that required five tons of dynamite. The end result is a red porphyry-walled "cavern" wine cellar with naturally constant ambient temperature ideally suited to aging wine. An additional 300 square metre chamber is used by the winery, as well as the province government, for official functions, presenting South Tyrol as a distinguished viticultural area.
Completed in 1990, the Stone Cellar was modelled on the winning proposal submitted by surveyor Nori Gruber of Bozen. The two bronze "wine muses" which stand at the cellar's entrance were created by Val Gardena sculptor Guido Anton Muss, who expired in 2002. These figures symbolise wine's fragility and elegance as well as its opulence and might.
The Stone Cellar is only accessible to the public on a limited basis.
In Laimburg Province's Winery's state-of-the-art cellar, pressed grape must is fermented in high-grade stainless steel tanks ranging from 10 to 80 hectolitres in size. The process is carefully monitored and controlled using an elaborate refrigeration system in conjunction with other technical equipment, which allows for optimal extraction of colour and tannins from the grape skins as well as a broader aroma spectrum. While some of the young wine is transferred into wood barrels for aging, a good portion remains in these vessels, where it is allowed to mature before bottling. Most all white and Rosé wines, and even certain reds are vinified entirely in stainless steel for maximum elegance and clarity.
One of the Stone Cellar's porphyry-walled chambers, 50 metres long and 7 metres wide, holds over one hundred small oak barrels (or "barriques"), in which the winery's dark, tannin-rich red wines are aged for 15-20 months. Over this period, the wine develops and matures: The tannins are slowly refined, becoming soft, round and velvety. Meanwhile, other essential aspects are absorbed from the oak barrel itself, changing the wine's bouquet and flavour, among them smoky, balsamic and vanilla elements.
In 2004/2005, an additional 350 square metres were created for further barrel storage, primarily of 500 litre and other large wooden barrels. As a consequence of these renovations, a large amount of space was freed up in the porphyry gallery; this area is to be used for shooting films and holding exhibitions, lending a modern air to the traditional roots of South Tyrolean wine cultivation.
The naturally constant ambient temperature in the Province Winery's "wine archive" makes it possible to observe the development of Laimburg wines over the years. About 100 bottles of each wine are added to the archive annually. Additional wines from the world's major viticultural regions are also collected so that the relative position of South Tyrolean wines can be assessed in comparative tastings. Finally, the wine archive provides storage area for the winery's experimental bottlings.
Laimburg Province Winery's ultimate goal is to bring out the character of each grape varietal in the glass. To this end, their wines are divided into two product lines, distinguished by their respective styles.
Laimburg Estate Wines are traditional, characteristic varietal wines vinified partially in high-grade stainless steel tanks and partially in oak, while the Manor Selection wines are more highly individualised, either aged in small oak barrels or otherwise specially selected by the winery. Each Manor Selection wine bears a name suiting its distinct character. These names are adapted from the fantasy world of South Tyrol's Alpine sagas, and are thus an expression of their special cultural legacy. The Province of South Tyrol's red and gold eagle emblem is emblazoned on the Manor Selection back labels, testifying to the winery's special obligation as a province institution.
The stylistic division of Laimburg's wines is evidence of the Province Winery's dedication to constant improvement in every aspect of the wine field.