“For us it’s about the holistic understanding of how plants interact and how to create a natural balance. Not only creating a balance in nature, but a balance between yourself and nature.”
Elisabetta Foradori is an institution in herself. A winemaking powerhouse. The OG keeper of the Teroldego grape, Elisabetta not only took over the Foradori estate at the age of 19, but also began to question the monoculture mindset of the region—preserving not only her family’s business but, perhaps more importantly, the Teroldego variety which had been subjected to the fate of high-yielding clones and bulk production. Her research and thoughtfulness led her to preserve (and diversify) the variety, as well as broaden its genetic profile. This was somewhat revolutionary in a region where vine growth was mostly focused on volume, and very little else.
It’s clear to us that Elisabetta’s intuitive nature is genetic – passed down from her grandparents and father, and on to her children. These days, Foradori is a family affair. In recent years, Elisabetta was joined by sons Emilio and Theo (who LITTLEWINE spoke to for this article) and daughter Myrtha. They now help to run the estate and have brought to the table, as Elisabetta did back in 1984, a fresh perspective on biodynamics and permaculture, which enables the winery to keep on evolving—just as it has done since 1934.
In 2008, Elisabetta, inspired by Sicilian winemaker friend Giusto Occhipinti, began to experiment with winemaking in clay; more specifically, the amphorae known as ‘tinajas’ made by the iconic Spanish potter, Juan Padilla. Fast forward to 2020, and there are over 200 amphorae lining the walls of the winery, as well as the traditional foudres and barrels. The beauty of these vessels is that they provide different evolutionary opportunities for the wines. It’s as much about capturing the energy of the wine as it is about letting the wine be; to become its own entity.
Meet Elisabetta, Emilio, Theo & Myrtha
Elisabetta Foradori has been working with the Teroldego grape since 1984. After the unexpected passing of her father in 1976, Elisabetta’s mother kept the cogs of the winery turning until Elisabetta had graduated from her studies in Oenology and was ready to take the reins. Not only did Elisabetta jump at the chance of taking over her father’s winery, but she did so with an outlook which was geared towards improving, preserving and crucially, diversifying Foradori. As Theo explains to us, there’s a difference between children of winemakers who inherit a vineyard and return to run it (or even sell it) versus those who inherit a vineyard and return to work it. The Foradori gang has always sat in the latter category.
Elisabetta’s approach was simple: replace the mass-produced, cloned varieties with the massal cuttings from the oldest Foradori vines. She also began pruning rigorously, harvesting by hand and farming organically. The intention to work with nature, as opposed to against it, has always been present. Others in the region thought she was crazy, but she always stuck with her gut feeling.
The thoughts and theories of Elisabetta’s late husband and the children's father, Rainer Zierock, greatly impacted the early years of Fordadori. Whilst Elisabetta’s later techniques were heavily influenced by the agricultural writings of Rudolf Steiner, Rainer – who himself was a dynamic biologist – was, for the most part, influenced by the earlier work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe;
“In a way, the first contact with biodynamics was through my father in the early 80s. My father’s first contact was through Goethe, not Steiner, so I guess you would call it dynamic biology, or dynamic organic agriculture. In the vineyard, all the basic ideas were already set, so the specifics; the preparations, certain obligations, and the integration of animals; were already very much supported by my father.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Foradori is still Foradori — now under the watchful, equally discerning eyes of siblings Emilio, Theo and Myrtha Zierock. Emilio, the eldest of the three and head winemaker, joined the winery full-time in 2011, with his first vintage in 2012. And Theo, a political journalist by trade, in 2015, and finally Myrtha, an environmental scientist, has elevated the diversification of the estate to a new level.
The success of the fourth-generation Foradoris is undoubtedly as easily attributed to Elisabetta’s active engagement with young winemakers and openness to change and evolution, as it is to her children's dedication to keep something as beautiful as the legacy of Foradori alive.
Today, the Foradori estate comprises 28 hectares of land, of which 75% is planted to Teroldego, 15% Manzoni Bianco, 5% Nosiola and 5% Pinot Grigio.
The Foradori estate has been in the family since 1939, bought by Elisabetta’s grandfather at a time when land cost very little. Elisabetta's father, Roberto, was the first to produce a Foradori cuvée. Elisabetta began with nine hectares of Teroldego; a three hectare area named Granato (planted to old vines of massal selection Teroldego) and six hectares of newly planted clones of Teroldego.
Teroldego, as a result of mass planting and cloning, had developed a bad reputation as a cheap wine, and Elisabetta was poised for change. Instead of planting any international grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet, which were popular at the time, she drastically removed the six-acre stretch of freshly planted clones and replaced them with massal cuttings from the Granato vineyard.
At the time, European grape varieties, like Merlot, had a vast pull on winemakers in the region since they were so easy to sell to big cooperatives, and the clones of Teroldego were reliable in their quantity. What Elisabetta was doing was unheard of. In some ways, sadly not much has changed since 1984; the co-ops still dominate this part of the world and as a result, it’s the area with the least amount of winemakers in Europe. However, Teroldego's image has been saved.
Having followed and unfollowed biodynamic principles, the estate finally became Demeter certified in 2002. Theo says,
“The story between biodynamics and us is quite complicated because my father, Rainer, didn’t like the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. He didn’t like him at all because he saw himself as parallel to him.”
Instead, relating back to the theoretical writing of Goethe, who is arguably the original biodynamic mind, the origin of the family’s relationship to biodynamics goes back to Rainer’s research into ‘dynamic biology.’
“The origin of our relationship to biodynamics comes from this: The holistic understanding of how plants interact, and how to create a natural balance – not only a balance in nature, but specifically a balance especially between you and nature.”
As such, their first contact with the notion of biodynamics was over 40 years ago. Rather than biodynamics, Rainer called it dynamic organic agriculture. Later, Elisabetta became interested in the writings of Steiner through an interaction with Alsatian winemaker Marc Kreydenweiss. In 1999 she converted their first officially biodynamic vineyard, and the following year the whole estate. Theo explains,
“At that point it was only really about the diversification of agriculture and ways of treating the landscape you’ve been lucky to work with; to shape it into something which is not a monoculture or violent to the eye or to the environment.”
Today, their awareness of nature’s rhythms aids their practice, but it isn’t the end of the world for them if they sway slightly from the moon cycle. There tends to be a slight conflict in the vineyards, Theo explains, thanks to the unpredictability of weather.
“In the vineyards, if the moon phase is right, then cool, but if not we will still do the work we need to do. It’s important for us, but it’s not God. But in terms of bottling, we always follow it. For racking, we fix the dates in line with the moon calendar.”
The diversification of the estate has rocketed with the addition of Myrtha to the gang in 2019. Having joined a farm-to-table cooperative in Oregon, Myrtha became fascinated with the model – no machines, permaculture, direct to consumer... the organic dream. Theo is clearly proud telling us her story:
“While she was there, she read a book by Jean-Martin Fortier, who is a Canadian guy who had two hectares of farmland. Over ten years he turned it into an impressive business with different methods of horticulture. She was so impressed with the book that she reached out and asked if she could work there.”
Fortier was approached by an investor who offered him a property outside of Montreal, where he could teach young farmers who had the energy to bring this new model to the outside world. Myrtha worked on this property for two years, and upon returning, decided that she wanted to bring a more natural, holistic approach to farming back to the region—or Italy, in general. Today, she works one hectare of land according to permaculture, planting seasonal vegetables and supplying local restaurants. Her desire to evolve the agricultural model has been instrumental in shaping Foradori into its present-day form.
“Having a direct relationship with vegetable farmers in Italy hasn’t been much of a thing in recent times. But now, it’s starting to take off, and my sister came in the front row.”
The winery has added a farmers market to its belt – a weekly offering of wines, vegetables, and bread from a baker in Trento.
“We’re planning to extend this a little bit so that we can educate people on the choices they have… so at least they can choose between a good salad and a supermarket salad. That just hasn’t existed here.”
Cuvées produced are the Foradori Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, aged in foudres, the Granato, aged in barrels, the Fontanasanta Manzoni Bianco, the Fontanasanta Nosiola, the Fuoripista Pinot Grigio, the single vineyard wines, Sgarzon and Morei, and the easy-drinking Lezer.
They have developed a further reputation through their single vineyard cuvées of Sgarzon and Morei, which were first released in 2015. They are aged in two different types of amphorae; the curved ‘panciuta’ (Theo likens it to the shape of a uterus) and the longer, cylindrical amphorae known as ‘cilindrica’.
Their experimentation with amphorae is ever-evolving, Theo explains,
“It becomes almost like a calculation — for the same amount of grapes that you can get into an amphora, the surface that is in direct contact with the liquid is smaller if it’s in a Panciuta or any other vessel which is not cylindrical. If you have a more vertical side, you have more skin surface on a smaller quantity of liquid.”
The health of the grapes is key to ensure a clean wine; and a rigorous sorting process helps to ensure this. Then, it’s time for maceration:
“We always say it’s a seven to nine month vinification process for our wines. The maceration period takes place for the first month and a half, and the secondary process—when the skins drop, but stay within the liquid—is almost like a tea bag infusion. That's when the skins absorb part of the colour and break down the macerated taste, which otherwise tends to be quite strong in the first months."
With the iconic image of the wineries’ walls lined with hundreds of amphorae in mind, we ask Theo how they first stumbled upon the idea of using clay;
“We didn’t start using amphorae because we wanted to try using amphorae—it was more by accident. My mother wanted to try macerating the Nosiola for as long as possible, because Nosiola is such a light, almost tasteless variety with very low alcohol. To make a short maceration would have been useless. In order to extract everything from the skins, my mother said “OK, I need something that will give me a potentially eternal skin maceration…”
Their approach to amphorae has always been technical, instead of cultural;
“We didn’t start working with them because we wanted to make wine like the Romans or wine like the Georgians, we just wanted to find something we could macerate with—for as long as possible.”
Their amphorae are created exclusively by Juan Padilla, an iconic Spanish potter based in Villarrobledo, who only communicates by fax. Juan’s Tinajas were the first (and last!) that they tried. It was an instant fit, but it has taken several years to perfect how to use them:
“We made several mistakes. We've realised that it's crucial to avoid any air contact at all during the ‘infusion’ period, as we call it. In the first five days there’s no problem, as long as the fermentation— the curve of activity—is rising and pushing out any oxygen. At some point, usually after seven days or so, when we see that the fermentations are slowing down, we seal them hermetically and deprive them of all air. It’s crucial to find a technique to eliminate air contact so that the only way the wine can breathe is through the clay.”
Elisabetta’s forward-thinking agricultural mind has been carried down through her children. It would be simple to continue the Foradori legacy as outlined by Elisabetta, but they strive to do even more.
Their newest project, a wine named Lezer, came to fruition after a difficult vintage. 2017 was characterised by hail, resulting in a delayed vintage for some parts of the Foradori vineyards. For Emilio and Theo, this was a chance to experiment. The cuvée is a culmination of wanting to create something easy, unpretentious and shareable. It’s the product of 20 different vineyard experiments, of which three quarters were used in the final blend. Some went into amphorae, some into oak, some into steel and some into cement, using a variety of winemaking methods. It’s a juicy, light and fun wine, but more than anything, they hope that one day it will provide an opportunity for young winemakers returning to the area to make the region their own. They dream of creating a cooperative of organically-minded local farmers to expand the production of Lezer to include their fruit, too.
But finding growers who wish to work in that manner is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Theo points out that the pull for young winemakers to return to the region is still very much focused on money (less so on organic farming work ethos);
“A lot of young people leave this area because it’s very restrictive, judgemental and harsh. And if they return, often they’re not really that interested. You can get so much money for the grapes with such little work. You can do your own stuff on the side. It’s a bit like a bubble - they don’t talk and they don’t think about it, they just take the money.”
Despite this, Theo is still hopeful, and still engaging with local growers regularly to let them know he’s there.
“All I can do is keep my ears open and receptive to who is around. You have to ask ‘what do you drink’ and ‘what do you want to get from your vineyards’ in order to figure out if their heart is in it or they’re just interested in getting cash.”
Here’s hoping that their hearts win.