Miss Riesling
Miss Riesling
Indeed, with the grape harvest in full swing the vineyards are bustling. Despite her heavy workload, winemaker Magdalena Pratzner, takes time off to tell us how she, as a female vintner, manages to operate in what is traditionally a male environment. She discusses the most important challenges of the future as she sees them, and why the screw cap is still frowned upon in some quarters.

Magdalena, how does the “Falkenstein Winery and Vineyard” resonate with wine aficionados?
Magdalena: Synonymous with high quality wines, the “Falkenstein” brand has a strong connection with Nature. Our wines are mostly produced in the vineyards, absorbing the nutrients of the soil in which the vine grows. We only intervene in the cellar when absolutely necessary. To us, wine is a natural product and should be largely created in its natural state. But the key to winemaking is: Passion. Without it, you won’t get anywhere.

Your father, Franz Pratzner, is considered a pioneer of Riesling wines and received the coveted “Angelo Betti” Italian award for viticulture. Do you feel that he’s set the bar too high or does his success inspire you?
No, I don’t feel any pressure due to his success. I’m proud of what my parents have achieved, and that they have entrusted me with their legacy. When it comes to Riesling, it’s true that my father almost perfected the process. This has taught me a lot and I don’t see a much room for much experimentation in the future. Everything is discussed among us and I receive plenty of advice. For me, it’s a continual learning process and I consider myself fortunate that I can fall back on my father’s extensive knowledge and experience. At the same time, he respects my decisions.

The world of agriculture and specifically viticulture, is still very traditional and male-dominated. As a young woman, how do you feel about it?
I’m actually treated with a lot of openness and respect. These days, more and more farms are taken over by women and daughters, though admittedly it’s still a small percentage of the total. In this part of the world, we’re still very influenced by Alpine traditions and an heiress is still regarded as something of an oddity. But in other parts of Italy, especially in Piemont and Tuscany, female farm managers are quite common and it’s nothing unusual. I’m sure there’s still scope for progress here in South Tyrol, though I can tell you that women are now considered better tasters and that seems to annoy some people (she laughs). The female brain seems to be more attuned to the different nuances of fragrances and aromas. This affects how one tastes, and women seem to be able to distinguish between a wider range
than men.
Magdalena and Franz Pratzner
What’s so special about South Tyrolean viticulture?
Throughout its small land mass, South Tyrol has a number of unique microclimates and different soil types. This creates a wide variety of conditions that I haven’t seen in any other European wine-growing region.

Following your studies in Austria you’ve worked in wineries in the USA, Australia, France and Italy. What can winemakers from South Tyrol learn from their international counterparts?
Most of all, I think we could learn to calm down a little (laughs). We sometimes complain about things that make Italian or American winemakers just shrug heir shoulders. We should take things a bit more in our stride. Other than that, I believe we can build a winemaking tradition in South Tyrol as good as any other in Europe, combining tradition with innovation. Many young winemakers gain experience by working abroad, and this can only benefit winemaking in South Tyrol.

What are the main future challenges for your generation of winemakers?
I see two major challenges for South Tyrolean viticulture. First of all, I think that producing consistently high-quality wines will be difficult to sustain into the future. South Tyrol has come up from practically nowhere, bursting onto the winemaking scene in a very short space of time. Maintaining this high standard will be a lot more difficult than having gotten there in the first place. Climate change is sure to be another major challenge.

Do you think that grape varietals might change?
Possibly. If the climate forecasts are even mildly accurate, I couldn’t be sure if Falkenstein will still have Riesling vineyards in 30 years’ time. As grape varietals change, it will affect viticulture as it moves to higher altitudes, even up to 1,000 m. Insects and other pests will migrate alongside and propagate at higher altitudes during the mild winters. There’ll also be new kinds of invasive species around, without natural enemies to control them.

At the end of the day – will wine lovers stick to cork or will they have to accept screw tops?
For white wines, screw tops are now a must. Whites with screw tops age well, retaining freshness and that makes them really interesting. With red wines, it’s more complicated. If you wish to opt for screw top, you need to be careful when removing air when corking so that the tannins aren’t too bitter. The bitterness slowly subsides through the exchange of air, but with the screw top that doesn’t happen or it happens much more slowly. But cork is also complicated: under certain circumstances, it can deprive the wine of its aroma, though the taste of the skin isn’t always evident due to the cork. This is problematic for those working in gastronomy such as sommeliers, as well as for us winemakers. Really good quality cork is in short supply worldwide and this alone will probably lead to the proliferation of screw tops.
Falkenstein-Riesling is considered one of the best Rieslings south of the Alps.
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