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New generation takes the helm at Cantina Kurtatsch

Published:  02 May, 2023

The torch is being passed to the next generation at Italian cooperative Cantina Kurtatsch in the mountains of Alto Adige.

Cantina Kurtatsch’s long-standing head winemaker, Othmar Donà, has been making wine at the cooperative in Italy’s northeastern corner since 1992. During that time, he has overseen a period of extensive change at the coop, while overseeing an upwards drive in quality.

Now, he passes the baton to his successor Erwin Carli, who has been serving as agronomist and vice-enologist at the cooperative for the past 10 years.

Carli will be tasked with adapting to ‘new challenges with courage and skill’, the group said, starting with the continuation of Donà’s research on alternative yeasts and the use of sustainable packaging.

He will also continue Donà’s analysis and research in the vineyard. Decades in the making, his ‘vineyard by vineyard, wine by wine’ approach was developed to create the ‘best possible conditions for the production of each label and to bring out the best possible expression of the potential of each variety’, while also mitigating the effects of climate change.

Donà’s work on red wines, particularly Bordeaux varieties, has also garnered attention. In the past decade, together with Carli, the enologist has expanded production of Cabernet and Merlot by 65%, with the area’s steep soils with southeastern exposure identified as being ‘ideal’ for these international varieties.

The decision to expand production of these varietals thereafter resulted in two of the coop’s icon labels: Freienfeld and Tres, which have increased value for the coop at both national and international levels.

“Thirty years ago, I stepped into a winery that almost nobody knew about,” Donà said. “A small company that was focused on producing more quantity than quality. It is a great achievement to currently be one of the leading wineries in Alto Adige and in Italy, producing wines that can go up against outstanding national and international labels.”

Perched on the border with Austria, Cantina Kurtatsch partners with 190 small, family growers in and around the village of Cortaccia (also known as Kurtatsch). Most vineyards are located on the steep, mountainous slopes surrounding the village, which range from 200m to 900m in altitude and encompass ‘extreme differences’.

On following Donà’s legacy, Carli said: “I obviously have to thank Omar for where I am today: being able to work and start from an excellent foundation is something I owe to him. The framework that he has set for Cantina Kurtatsch allows us, today, to be a modern winery that can face the challenges posed by the market.

“All of this would have never been possible without his strong determination. He always persisted even when the market did not appreciate our products.”