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Like the hoopoe

The Abraham family of winegrowers have been supplying the wine co-operatives with their grapes for five generations. Martin, the youngest member of the family, has now decided to make wines according to his personal philosophy and at his own risk.
 
“Reaching my decision cost me a few sleepless nights, but now I am proud of it”, says Martin Abraham following his new beginning as an independent winegrower. The will to do so finally triumphed over his doubts. His farm lies somewhat hidden in the hamlet of Maderneid near Eppan, where the view sweeps over a sea of grapevines in the foreground to the steep mountains that rise up in the distance. Abraham still supplies the local co-operative with some of his grapes, but this young winegrower, aiming to be the master of his own destiny, now processes the majority of the vintage himself.

The co-operative cellars undoubtedly enjoy a very high reputation. Their wines are often awarded prizes in competitions, connoisseurs taste their new products approvingly and they have passed on an uncompromising idea of quality to the farmers themselves. This approach has paid off, with South Tyrolean wines currently enjoying an excellent reputation. The co-operatives also pay well and relieve winegrowers of a large part of the work as, once the grape harvest has been delivered, responsibility for pressing, bottling, labelling, distribution and marketing lies with the co-operative. It is thus not surprising to discover that in Eppan, with several co-operatives as South Tyrol’s largest winegrowing municipality, the number of independent wine producers can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand.



“Proud on the one hand, unyielding on the other.”

Martin Abraham has recently joined their ranks. While his great-great-uncle was the first cellar master of the St. Pauls wine co-operative, he has now broken with tradition and has on the one hand decided to assume, together with his wife Marlies and his family, all of the associated risks and uncertainties. On the other, however, he feels a tremendous satisfaction in seeing the grapes being crushed in his own press, witnessing the fermentation process in his own cellar and being present at the first bottling or when interested customers arrive.

Realising the entire process himself, from cultivating the grapes in the vineyard to marketing the finished product – that was the bold dream that this young winegrower has now fulfilled. A bold dream indeed, in which he is practically alone in daring to attempt. The bank certainly did not rush to grant Abraham a loan with which to purchase the necessary equipment and convert his cellar, his parents and siblings were likewise (to put it mildly) sceptical, while the village reacted with surprise and even anger. The wine trade too is suffering from hard times. Martin Abraham however had his own mind: he would not be deflected, he had his idea and he knew how he wanted to tackle it. “We are like the hoopoe, rare and proud on the one hand, unyielding on the other,” he says, referring to the rare bird with the curved beak and distinctive crest of feathers. In one of his vineyards, the “Rosslauf”, the hoopoe can sometimes be seen, so Abraham has chosen it as the symbol of his wine production and it now features on every label and carton.
 
 
 
His wife Marlies too was from the outset very keen on the idea of independence, so that they can today say: “Two are much stronger than one”. Meanwhile their two little ones play in the yard, and a third is on the way. Making your own wine necessitates considerable knowledge: apart from the purely technical know-how, other factors include economic viability, market research, brand strength and sales, with numerous requirements to meet and, last but not least, the fact that farmers are still heavily dependent on the weather. But, at the end of the day, the work and its many cycles produce an enormous sense of happiness.

“It is not just with nature – you also develop intensive relationships with the numerous customers, business partners and fellow enthusiasts”, states Martin. Not all of the necessary production machines were available for his first harvest, but where there’s a will, there’s a way: his neighbours from the adjoining Bergmannhof farm helped out with the bottling and labelling and in return were lent his wine press. Even Eppan’s uncrowned king of winemaking, cellar master Hans Terzer, took it upon himself to pay the Abrahams a visit. “I won’t spare you”, he said, referring to his forthcoming judgement of Martin’s first products, only then to give his approval. In the trade the view is unanimous: there is a need for both large and small, the co-operatives and the small producers who occupy a niche yet help the entire sector.

“We are fortunate enough to benefit from the tremendous variety in Eppan.”

Martin and Marlies Abraham can today look out over a farm of some five hectares, divided into various locations, including a fair number of apple trees, with a first vintage of 6,000 bottles and a great deal of positive feedback. Martin’s entire family are now right behind him, with his father, mother, brothers and sisters all helping with the harvest. He happily shows off his first two lines, a Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco) and a cuvée of Vernatsch (Schiava) and Blauburgunder (Pinot Nero), both sealed with the still relatively uncommon glass stopper. The Weissburgunder vines were planted by his grandfather some fifty years ago. He describes the “Upupa” cuvée as an untamed Vernatsch, also made from old vines producing small grapes on the somewhat inhospitable Rosslauf vineyard. Now he thoughtfully moistens his palate and tongue and ascribes to it a fine acidity and saltiness. He naturally knows his own work inside and out: he knows which nuances influence the aroma, or that the wine improves with the time it spends on the lees, or that the wood ensures that the oxygen is properly exchanged.

Nevertheless, the main point is to recognise simplicity and clarity, to reject the superfluous and to filter out nature in its purest form. “We manage the balance of growth” is how he explains the modern understanding of the winegrower. Eppan seems blessed, with its various soils, its locations and altitudes each with their different microclimates: exposure to the sun, wind, cool nights, precipitation are all factors that have a bearing on every drop produced. Winegrowers now pay much more attention to the creation and the notion of a mutual give and take. It is not just the Abrahams who work according to these principles: it represents a remarkable return to the credo of their fathers and forefathers.
 
 
Published on 03.03.2015
 
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