Girlan (Cornaiano). Südtirol Südtirol (Alto Adige). Northern Italy The Alto Adige is breathtakingly beautiful and has the classic climate required to cultivate some of the world’s more awkward grapes, namely hot days and cool nights. Over 80% of this region is mountainous, German is the first language and the region is often also confusingly grouped together with its Italian speaking neighbour, the Trento. Emma and I first imported from Girlan in 2001. I had long considered their ‘Art Series Lagrein’ to be one of the best and we couldn’t believe how friendly and helpful they were back then in dealing with a tiny firm like ours. Girlan is quite a large cooperative that was founded in 1923, a time when wine was just becoming a truly commercial product in Italy. The cooperative now consists of 230 members, the total vineyard coverage is just over 200 hectares. Members vie to be paid the premium offered when their grapes are deemed fit for the top wines. With 25 hectares, Girlan has the second largest plantings of Pinot Noir in the Südtirol, 10 of which are in the prized Mazzon Cru. The average vineyard holding in the Alto Adige is tiny and these plots are still treasured by their owners who have no intention of selling. So something quite remarkable was created back then: perhaps the first cooperative that focused on excellence. Girlan’s early fame was built on the unusual policy to pay for the quality rather than the quantity of grapes. The cooperative is stronger now than ever and represents a model of how this social system can work magnificently, in fact the model has been copied by forward-looking cooperatives in other parts of Italy. In 2006 there were major changes with the overhaul of both the cellar and personnel when Gerhard Kofler was appointed Cellarmaster. The cantina cut the number of wines it releases each year and fully embraced their members’ Vernatsch (a grape known in Italy as Schiava). Historically Vernatsch was seen as no better than a work horse, but, by hint of good fortune tastes have changed and are finally recognising the glories of light red wines.