Maso Thaler (Alto Adige, Glena)
One Saturday a few years ago left my little B&B at 9am and entered the motorway near Verona, northbound, a brilliant morning sun on my right. Over the next 90 minutes I left the Veneto plains and began the ascent into the area of Italy known as Südtirol, through the Adige Valley, and into perhaps one of the finest landscapes of Europe.
The mountains are the Dolomites and this land is more Austria than Italy, more butter than olive oil, more pretzels than focaccia, and more mountain than plains. I had been anticipating this part of 10 days in Italy more than any other and by all measures was not disappointed.
I exited the autostrada at NeuMarkt and began the slow crawl up the mountainside through cobblestoned villages, past sheep beginning to graze the first green grass of an early Spring, and onward to the very end of the very last road to the small hamlet of Glena. Here is where I met brothers Filippo and Francesco Motta, at 750 meters above sea level, and in one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.
Nino Motta came to the Alto Adige from Rome in 1990, having decided to uproot his life and go somewhere more tranquill than the chaotic capital city, and never looked back. He purchased an abandoned farm and planted wine grapes, mostly Pinot Noir, on terraced slopes that still to this day appear to hang precariously from the cliffside. Today he still manages most of the farmwork while his two sons and a daughter-in-law run the business, and handle the winemaking.
This 3.5 hectare farm, called Maso Thaler (Mah-zo Toller) is a wonder. The steep grade forces most work to be done by hand, plant by plant, cluster by cluster. It's hard work, but the results are unique and wonderful.
My guess is that most wine lovers don't have a reference point for high altitude Pinot Noir. In Oregon, our highest vineyards might be near 1000 feet. Similar elevations in Burgundy. At Thaler the Pinot is all planted at 800 meters, about 2500 feet! The plants grow low to the ground, natural yields are tiny, and I bet that a plant that is anyting other than a conifer tree has an arduous life.
But Nino Motta was a visionary. He knew Pinot Noir, if tended the right way here, would be extraordinary. His conviction and patience have paid dividends. He was right.