Treasures in a Mine: Cantina Tramin’s Epokale Gewürztraminer

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The life of a wine writer, when she’s not alone and hunched over a computer, is full of exciting one-of-a-kind travel experiences. Hiking an active volcano? Check. Off-roading in the rough terrain of a New Mexico canyon? Check. Hot air balloons, helicopters, yachts, Humvees, Segways, skis—in the interest of a good story, duty calls and a wine writer will climb aboard. 

However, nothing compares to venturing three miles deep into rocky limestone caves carved into the Dolomite Alps, Europe’s highest mountain range.  

The final destination? A defunct silver mine where some of the world’s most treasured wines lay quietly resting in complete darkness.

A Wine Adventure in a Mine

Here’s the lead-up. An early morning start at the base of the Dolomites. Safety comes first so we don full mining gear: helmet with headlamp, miner’s jacket and wellies. Then it’s a caravan of journalist-filled SUVs powering up a shoulderless steep and winding dirt road (during which I prayed for my well-being!). We arrive safe and sound at the landing, high above sea level. A train is waiting to take us on what will be the adventure of a lifetime, and it begins in a narrow, pitch black tunnel.

On the road to the mine. All photos by Lisa Denning.

I’ll admit, I was feeling some trepidation. What if a deep-rooted claustrophobia was awakened in me? Then what? I had been told the train could only take us so far and then we would be hiking through muddy waters in an area too narrow and wet for the railway cars. No time for much thinking, though, as we were off into the tunnel in a flash, the wheels of the train screeching so loudly I could no longer hear a word the person sitting across from me was speaking. That person was Wolfgang Klotz, Director of Marketing for Cantina Tramin, whose wines we were about to pay a visit.

In the mine with Wolfgang Klotz.

A Winery and its Region

Cantina Tramin is located in Alto Adige, in the northeast Italian wine region of Trentino-Alto Adige, a part of the larger South Tyrol province. Alto Adige borders Austria to the north, and the whole of South Tyrol (Südtirol in German) was, until the end of World War I, a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today it is a wonderful blend of German and Italian culture.  

Visitors will notice that instead of one main language, both Italian and German are spoken fluently, with almost two-thirds of Bolzano native German speakers and most residents of Trentino speaking Italian. My impression of Alto Adige, in contrast with Trentino (to the south of Alto Adige), is that it has a more Germanic than Italian feeling to it though, starting with the beautiful Bavarian-like architecture in and around towns like Bolzano, Merano and Tramin. The charming setting provides a perfect backdrop for the area’s culinary treasures like goulash, wurst (sausages) and horseradish beet dumplings, items you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Italy.

A Typical scene in the village of Tramin.

Cantina Tramin was founded in the little town of Tramin in 1898 by a local pastor, Christian Schrott, with the idea to join together a small group of wine growers who could come together as joint owners of one company, and share costs by pooling their resources. This way of making wine, as a cooperative, or co-op, was particularly beneficial at the turn of the 20th century, a time of financial hardships during which many small wineries couldn’t have survived on their own. Today cooperative wineries are the backbone of wine production in many European regions, and 70 percent of Alto Adige's wine is produced by these member-owned wineries.

Initially, Cantina Tramin, like most co-ops, would pay their growers by the amount of grapes provided, but today it pays its 160 family members according to the caliber of the grapes, not the volume.  “Over time, the strategy changed,” says Klotz, “as the wine growers improved how they work and the varieties they grow. The focus is now solely on getting quality grapes.”

Fortunately, Cantina Tramin’s vineyards are blessed with near-perfect conditions for winemaking. Situated in the scenic foothills of the Dolomite mountains, the vines are planted on glacial soils of predominantly calcareous clay, gravel and silty loam. During the growing season, the warm, Mediterranean-like days (temperatures rose well into the 90s when I was there in June) are contrasted by cool alpine nights, allowing the production of ripe, aromatic wines with a firm backbone of acidity.

Gewürztraminer and Alto Adige, A Love Story

Cantina Tramin is named after the town of Tramin (Termeno in Italian) and produces white and red wines from several grapes, however the variety considered the winery’s calling card is Gewürztraminer, a full-bodied, aromatic white grape that is also the showcase white wine of the region.  

“The Traminer grape takes its name from the town of Tramin, where the variety originated,” says Scott Clemens at, “‘Gewürz’ is the German word for spicy, hence Gewürztraminer is the name given to the spicier clones of Traminer. The Italians call it Traminer aromatico, which is more to the point, as Gewürztraminer's charm lies in its floral aromatic qualities.” 

Historical records dating back 200 years show that Gewürztraminer was typically made as a sweet wine, however today, the variety most often is produced in a dry style, with Cantina Tramin’s Nussbaumer being Italy’s most awarded dry Gewürztraminer. Fresh and deeply aromatic, Nussbaumer shows a great interplay of juiciness, richness and salty minerality.

Read more about a tasting of Gewürztraminer wine on The Wine Chef. Can you guess the favorite wine? Hint: it comes from Alto Adige!

“The only Gewürztraminers that can compete with Alsace’s are those from Alto Adige, and of these, Nussbaumer is the best.” Ian D’Agata on dry Gewürztraminer, Decanter Magazine, January 2015.

The Magnificent Epokale

Cantina Tramin’s exploratory spirit led the winery to create another style of Gewürztraminer, beginning with the 2009 vintage, similar yet different to the traditional sweet wines common in Alto Adige until two centuries ago. Since its debut, the new wine, called Epokale has been turning heads, with the 2009 becoming the first Italian white wine to be awarded 100 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

“It started with the idea of making another style of Gewürztraminer, different from the fresh and dry styles already being made at the winery,” says Klotz. “The inspiration comes from places like Alsace with their spatlese wines.4:44 We wanted an elegant and graceful style, with an abundance of acidity, sugar, structure and concentration of fruit—one that can be aged for a very long time. The first vintage was 2009 and it was just the beginning.”

We made it to the mine safe and sound where the wine bottles were snoozing in bins that are labeled by vintage. We then learned all the fascinating details of the mine and the wines’ unique aging process.

“The mine is in the Ridanna Valley and dates back to the middle ages,” said Klotz. “Hundreds of years ago and up until the 1970s, mine workers and their families lived on top of the mountain. A miner’s job was tough but they were well paid and could provide a good life for their families. When machines were invented, the dust in the mines increased and the worker’s health was jeopardized and nobody wanted the jobs anymore and the mine remained empty. About 15 years ago, we asked the government to rent the space,” says Klotz, “and at first they said no, but eventually we got permission to keep the wines there and we are the only ones to do that.”

A Gestation Like No Other

The vines for Epokale grow in two of Cantina Tramin’s oldest Gewürztraminer vineyards. After harvest, the wine is fermented and aged in steel tanks with the lees for about eight to eleven months. The bottled wine is then taken to the mine where it ages in complete darkness for nearly 7 years. Klotz told me they started bringing the Epokale wine into the mine in 2010 and that there are about 10,000 bottles there at any given time.

“Four or five of us go out to the mines with the truck,” says Klotz, “a 2 hour drive from the winery, and take the wine on the train to a certain point where we then have to bring the wine in and out by hand since the last little piece is where the train does not run.”

Klotz admits that it is a lot of trouble to go through, but says it is worth the effort to bring this special wine to maturity. The temperature and humidity year round are constant, 11 degrees celsius (52 degrees fahrenheit) and 90%, and the air pressure is the same as outdoors, perfect and steady conditions for the wine.

The Takeaway?

Cantina Tramin is a winery dedicated to making top-notch wines and they pull out all stops to make the best of the best. Their commitment to this winemaking philosophy of excellence clearly shows through the magnificent Epokale.

And a morning in a mine is a morning like no other!

Epokale Vintage Report

With such a relatively new wine in the Cantina Tramin portfolio, the winemaking team is still figuring out exactly what works best for the Epokale, and each year the results from year to year can be quite different. “The mine is an important component of the wine but it’s not the only one,” says Klotz. “Each vintage of Epokale reflects the differences in the weather and in the winemaking.”

With such a relatively new wine in the Cantina Tramin portfolio, the winemaking team is still figuring out exactly what works best for the Epokale. Over time, the direction of Epokale is veering towards less residual sugar and more freshness and harmony between sugar and acidity. The team initially thought the 2009 could be too much for consumers, too powerful, too sweet, with too much concentration and richness, so they tried to tone things down for the 2010 vintage. However, 13 years later, they are seeing how beautifully the 2009 has aged, still rich and concentrated but with more balance, elegance and a distinct liveliness.

Cantina Tramin’s winery, where the Epokale tasting was held in June of 2022.

With Willi Stürz, After visiting the mine.

The day before the visit to the mines, a group of about 60 journalists from all over the world, myself included, gathered at Cantina Tramin’s beautiful winery with winemaker Willi Stürz in attendance for a grand tasting of six of the most recent vintages, from the latest release, 2015, and going back to 2009. Only 2014 was missing as the winery has decided that it requires further aging in the mine before release.

Below are brief entries from my tasting notes of each of Epokale’s released vintages. My advice? With an annual production of only 1,200 to 2,400 bottles per year, I suggest scooping up whatever you can find of these delicious and unique Gewürztraminer wines.

As you can see below, each vintage of Epokale has a different level of alcohol and residual sugar, which creates that year’s unique characteristics of the wines, but regardless of vintage each and every one shows, to one degree or another, a wonderful harmony between sweetness, freshness, intensity of fruit, and richness of texture.

2009 Epokale - 12.5% ABV with 107 grams per liter residual sugar. A warm vintage. Intensely aromatic, rich and concentrated. A big and fairly unctuous wine with notes of ripe peach and tropical fruits, apricot and lychee. Great acidity; deeply flavored with a very long finish. A very lively wine!

2010 Epokale - 13.5% ABV with 36 grams per liter residual sugar. A cool vintage. On the nose, more restrained fruit compared to the 2009. Very floral with honeysuckle and white orchard fruits. A spicier, leaner style with a good balance between fruit and sugar. Spicy, peppery notes and a bitter finish, characteristic of Gewürztraminer.

2011 Epokale - 14.2% ABV; 30 grams per liter residual sugar. Notes of mint, thyme, rosemary and apricot. Spicy peppery notes with bright acidity and a spicy long finish. Well Balanced.

2012 Epokale - 13.8% ABV; 23 grams per liter residual sugar. The most dry style of all the vintages, and very reminiscent of the Nussbaumer dry Gewürztraminer. Orange peel, citrus, ginger.

2013 Epokale - 12.7% ABV; 46 grams per liter residual sugar. A cooler vintage, somewhat restrained aromatics with less tropical fruit notes and more floral. Very fresh with citrusy sensations (lime and orange) Round with less bitterness on the finish.

2015 Epokale - 12.5% ABV; 55 grams per liter residual sugar. Aromatics of fresh fruits like apple and flowers like rose. Rich with peppery, spicy notes. Richer than the ‘13. Young and fresh; still a bit closed. Best to wait four to five years to drink this one.

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