In 1990 Thomas’s father switched his apple growing business to organic and in the mid-1990s he planted the first PIWI (fungus resistant) vine. Rudolf Niedermayr – his family and friends call him Rudi – is ahead of the curve in his field. Hardly surprising, when he is one of the six founders of the cooperative Biosüdtirol. One of the six men who, in a farmhouse parlour in late summer 1990, breathed life into their vision of selling organically grown apples. Six headstrong individuals have now grown to 200 headstrong individuals. The first generation is now handing their farms over to the next generation.
A South Tyrolean idyll. The meadows of the farmstead Gandberg are located in Eppan, right next to the neighbouring forest at the foot of the Mendel mountains. Cool air streams from the “ice holes” in the nearby forest and flows into the farm land, thereby influencing its special micro-climate.
It wasn’t entirely clear who would take over the farm from Rudi, so Thomas spoke with his five siblings ... and changed his life in the process. He resigned from his job and trained at the agricultural college in Laimburg. Until that point he had been working as a joiner in a small business known in a region known for its solid wood furniture. After completing his training, he gained work experience in Austria, working as a consultant for vine pruning, completed an internship in a winery business and thus armed himself for Zero Hour: Thomas took over his parents’ farm and took the baton for another generation.
“Our natural wines ferment spontaneously and are unfiltered and unenhanced.”
Rudi had been growing organic apples since 1990, a year later the vineyards began and shortly after that he founded the farm winery. His son Thomas infuses their winery work with the naturalness of the cultivated land: “Our natural wines ferment spontaneously and are unfiltered and unenhanced.” The next milestone came in 2017: the Niedermayrs built a new winery on the hillside right next to the farm and planted their own home-grown PIWI vines (fungus resistant grape varieties). The winery proves to be as pure and unenhanced as the wines: aside from reinforced concrete only natural materials from the immediate surrounding area have been used, such as porphyry, chestnut wood and pinewood.
Well-considered and bound to nature. Thomas’s philosophy is clearly visible in the land. 95% PIWI varieties flourish on the vineyard slopes and the apple varieties are also highly resistant to apple scab. The apples are Topaz (Rudi even discovered a chance mutation variety in his meadow: the red Topaz), Bonita with its high resistance and Evelina with low susceptibility means there is less need for pesticide treatments, so both plants and soil are spared the stress.
In order to increase the fertility of the ground, Thomas sows flowers along the tracks. He relies principally on mowing rather than mulching. “The hay lies on the tracks. Not due to personal laziness, but because it protects the ground and slowly builds up a layer of humus soil that improves the ground,” Thomas explains his special method. In addition, the flowers encourage bio-diversity and offer shelter for helpful insects and creatures. Even the stabilising posts for the rows of trees are not made of the usual concrete. Instead, most are made using untreated chestnut wood from the nearby forest. By using a clever fastening technique the wooden posts have already been standing fast for generations.
The seemingly never-ending work in the apple meadows and vineyards needs a lot of helping hands. Thomas relies on his companions and harvest helpers: his parents Maria and Rudi, the two Marlenes (his wife and his sister), as well as the two part-time workers Christa and Pavel. If anybody asks why he doesn’t simply concentrate on the wine cellar and the wine business, he doesn’t need to think about his answer for long: “Years ago I took over the farm so that I could dig around in the earth with my hands again. I have to be able to feel nature beneath my fingernails.” In short: grounded and deep, both in his business philosophy and in his life among the trees and the vines.