Elena Walch never intended to become the queen of Gewürztraminer. Born and raised in Milan, she was first a successful architect. But when love and marriage brought her to the vineyards of Alto Adige in the 1980s, she discovered a passion and skill for vineyard management and winemaking. Instead of partnering with her husband, Werner Walch, whose label dates back to 1869, Elena went her own way, rethinking the region’s winemaking traditions. She replanted vines according to soil type: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling went into sandy soils, while her award-winning Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Bianco were planted in chalky soils above Tramin. She charged more for her wines, which are made using sustainable practices with lower-yielding grapes. And people responded. Rather than shy away from her unorthodox practices, the locals embraced them—along with the exceptionally good wines they produced. Now, Elena’s own self-titled label overshadows her husband’s, and she has ensured that the winery will continue under strong female leadership. Her two daughters, Karoline and Julia, have followed in her footsteps and now work under the matriarch’s label. Here, Karoline interviews her mother about what it was like to be a pioneer in the Italian wine industry.
Why did you decide to start making wine?
I was an independent architect for many years and never thought about being a winemaker. But I met my future husband, Werner Walch, while doing restorations on his Castel Ringberg castle in Alto Adige, and love brought me to the little village of Tramin, where I was surrounded by nothing but vines. I always had a passion for wine and had traveled to many wine regions, so I recognized that the Walch family owned some of the most unique vineyards in Alto Adige. A desire to better showcase this special terroir is really what started my winemaking career.