Apple in its most delightful form.
How it all started and how it will continue
We have come to terms with the mountain. The family has lived up here for generations and has always tried things out. Twenty years ago, when I finished my training, I had the feeling that it was time to try something new. I decided to specialise in fruit growing. The big question was: How do apples do on the mountain, at over 900 metres above sea-level?
Apples are normally found growing down in the valley. Somebody must have planted some trees up here. We have always had apples and pears and all the berries that you cultivate and also grow wild. For us, there was nothing special about that. If you grow up on a farm, you don't make a song and dance about it when the elderberry flowers or the black currants ripen."
A young man leaves home to see the world, traveling to various countries, always out with friends, and suddenly comes the big turnabout: back to the farm and home where he was born and grazed his knees, where he learnt to read and write, where he saw what makes the world go round, where his character, desires and visions were shaped.
So how did he feel about that? There were no dramatics involved when Thomas Kohl decided, almost from one day to the next, to stop guiding tourists around Europe. In a family tradition gong back over the generations, everything was clear anyway: As the eldest child and only son, Thomas would one day take over the farm.
At agricultural school, he sees and learns much that is new to him. His interest is confirmed. You learn most of it on the farm, and he already knows and can do a lot. You learn almost without thinking about it, by watching your parents at work, and by helping - sometimes because you enjoy it and sometimes because you have to.
There are many bends on the road up to Obsthof Troidner on the Ritten. From Bozen, which is located at 260 metres above sea-level, the road climbs a few hundred metres to Unterinn. The air is cooler there than down in the valley, usually by an additional jacket at least. "For years no-one believed that it would be possible to grow apples up here at over 900 metres," says an amused Thomas Kohl. Twenty years ago, he and his father starting planting apple trees. And it worked! At this height, 'mountain apples' is the official terminology. No wine is grown at this height, but mountain apples flourish! They like the more intensive sunshine and the cool winds that flow down the mountain sides in the evening. For many months, until late spring, the view from Thomas Kohl's farm is of snow-covered peaks on the other side of the valley.
Much has happened since the changeover to fruit growing was completed and the young farmer took charge. In the old days, the apple trees were all Golden Delicious - in keeping with the standard taste of the Italians, who don't want any old apple in their fruit bowl. But Thomas Kohl's individual spirit was challenged. Why do what has always been done? Why not do something different, something special, something original? That is when he had the idea of experimenting to see which apple varieties made good mountain apples, and as a next step he started pressing single variety juices. The whole thing had a certain logic if you look beyond your own backyard - and down into the valley, which is where the wine grows in South Tyrol. And if you look carefully, as Thomas Kohl did, you see that grapes and apples have much in common in terms of varieties and sites.
Apple trees great and small. Who never climbed an apple tree all those years ago, when the summers were hot and long? The question brings a smile to the face of the modern apple grower. Small is what they should be, the trees that he plants and nurtures throughout the year - just so big that an adult can reach the highest apples, when they are nice and ripe and ready for the press. And how is that done? "Our trees grow very slowly," he explains. "That's practical." And that's as it should be. Two to three passes is all it takes to harvest the apples from a tree when they ripen between August and October, depending on the variety, the site and the amount of sun they have had. They are picked individually by hand and placed in a basket to be taken to the barn. Instead of livestock, that now houses the press and tanks, while bottling takes place on the floor below.
Thomas Kohl had to work out a lot himself. That involved plenty of experimenting with the right varieties for cultivation on the mountain, the best blends for the cuvées and the most effective measures for the highest standard of quality. And he continues to experiment even today. There is still something of the explorer in him; he likes to travel and see what he can see. He gains new ideas and inspirations on his journeys to destinations near and far. And when he has an idea he doesn't let go, but concentrates on all the details until he is satisfied with the result. He has an unfailing instinct for authenticity - not because he is a farmer, but simply because he is the way he is.