History

Explore Alto Adige’s history of wine from the Holy Roman Empire, to Austro-Hungarian royalty, to the creation of protected wine status, and today's winemaking.


Alto Adige has been growing grapes and making wine in a spectacularly beautiful region for over 2,500 years! With a fabled history of monasteries, royalty, and political boundary shifts, Alto Adige’s history, seen through the lens of its wines, will astound you.

Seeds Illustration

500 BC - The Rhaetians planted vines

Ancient grape seeds support the theory that the Rhaetian people, a group of Alpine tribes believed to be related to the Etruscans, planted vines on the hillside of Alto Adige over 2,500 years ago.

15 BC - What have the Romans ever done for us?

Alto Adige became part of the Roman Empire, continuing and improving upon the viticultural history of the Rhaetians.

Alto Adige Monastery Illustration

700s - 1400s - Monks and Nobility

Alto Adige’s wine industry began to flourish thanks to the interests of German nobility and monasteries. Abbazia di Novacella (Kloster Neustift) was built (starting in 1140) and it remains active to this day, making it one of the oldest functioning wineries in the world.

9th Century - Royal Distribution

Alto Adige became part of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne and remained in the empire until its collapse in 1806. The wines of Alto Adige were distributed throughout the empire, ensuring its popularity in many of the royal courts.

king

1370 - Lagrein first mentioned

Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV sang the praises of Lagrein saying it was the best wine from the area.

Archduke

1850 - Archduke Johann of Austria brings international grape varieties

Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol, became part of the Habsburg Empire in 1814 and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. Archduke Johann of Austria was a Habsburg and a German monarch who introduced Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon to Alto Adige.

1867 - Brenner Railway opens

Larger volumes of wine began moving throughout Europe as the railway connected Innsbruck to Verona, speeding up Trans-Alpine shipping.

1893 - The establishment of the first cooperative winery

Today more than 65% of all wine production is made by cooperatives, and they produce consistently high-quality wines.

1901-1918 - Phylloxera and WWI

The insect pest that eats vine roots and the devastation of World War I nearly wiped out the Austrian, Hungarian, and Bavarian wine markets.

Alto Adige Flags Illustration

1918 - Alto Adige becomes a province of Italy

After almost seven centuries of Austrian rule, Italy annexed Südtirol (Alto Adige) as the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended. This legacy of Austrian culture is still seen today in the language (around 70% of people here speak German), food, tradition, and grape varieties planted in the region.

1931 - First protected designation of origin wine

Santa Maddalena, which is a blend of Schiava (Vernatsch) and Lagrein, becomes the first wine in the region protected by the new “designated origin law” in Italy. The short-hand for protected wines, DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), enters common usage.

1975 - Alto Adige/Südtirol Becomes a DOC

Today over 98% of all production in Alto Adige is a part of the DOC – that’s the highest percentage in Italy!

Glass of wine Illustration

1980s - Shift towards higher quality

Before the 1980s, most wines were simple red wines sold at low prices to German-speaking markets. Then, the cooperatives shifted towards producing higher quality wines together in the 1980s. This led to a rise in plantings of international varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, and Gewürztraminer.

Today - a return to indigenous varieties

While the international varieties still make high-quality wines. Today, more efforts are being made towards the native varieties of Lagrein, Schiava (Vernatsch), and Gewürztraminer with quality achieved by organic and biodynamic farming.

Sources

*Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including their Origins and Flavours.* Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz