Last month, Tommaso and I were invited to go to Alto Adige, in the Isarco Valley, to discover an ancient tradition closely linked to uniting people, to autumn, to new wine and to chestnuts: the Törggelen.
Despite the fact that nowadays there are bus-fulls of tourists coming from Germany and enthusiasts who come to Alto Adige for the sole purpose of being a part of this festival, the Törggelen is a part of the farming culture, which is still very much alive in these parts: it didn’t start out as an excuse to attract tourists, but was something passed down from grandparents and great grandparents. It is loved so much by the South Tyrolese that they consider the Törggelen to be their fifth season.
Nowadays, there is a great calling for the authentic Törggelen in Alto Adige in order to promote and protect the work of the farmers and to ensure the constant presence of new wine and chestnuts. For this reason, all of the organisers stressed that the true, authentic festival could only be in places where grapevines and chestnut trees grow, exactly like in the Isarco Valley.
Historically speaking, the Törggelen began around November 11, coinciding with the day of Saint Martin, a day dedicated to the celebration of new wine, also in Tuscany, and continued up until the start of Advent, a period of great reflection about Christmas.
Today, the season has been extended and at the end of September the first bonfire is set alight for the roasted chestnuts, traditionally accompanied by some new wine. The Törggelen comes to a close in time for Saint Catherine’s day, on November 26, just before the start of Advent.
The Törggelen, a real thanksgiving feast, Alto Adige style, is nowadays also accompanied by the tradition stemming from small local restaurants, known as Buschenschank: this tradition began in medieval times when the Princes would give farmers permission to sell their wine to people passing by and to their guests. These small local restaurants became known by a branch which would hang outside: a branch is still used nowadays.
During the Törggelen, everyone can now be found in the Buschenschank, new wine sits alongside roasted chestnuts over a large brazier, before everyone takes their places at the table for a hearty meal, where tradition and local produce steal the limelight. The menu consists of cresent-shaped pasta filled with ricotta and spinach, dumplings, sauerkraut with smoked meat, barley soup, sometimes there is goulash, sausages, cold cuts, local fresh bread and, to finish off, sweet krapfen filled with jam and poppy seeds, all alongside wine produced on the premises. The chestnuts, the opening stars of the festival, are back once again to close the meal with brandies and liqueurs.
A bit of history
One of the possible explanations of the origin of the word, törggelen, references the latin, torcolum, the wine press. According to this tradition, in autumn, the farmers would invite all those who had lent a hand at the grape harvest and with the many other activities in and around the farm. Celebrations began in the wine cellar next to the wine press, where the new wine would be tasted, before moving to the living quarters where the farm produce would take centre stage: vegetables, cheeses and meats.
Another possibile explanation of the origins of the term, törggelen, lies instead with the German word, torkeln, which means ‘to stagger’. We can just picture the farmers returning back home, legs slightly wobbly, after having completed the tour of their neighbours’ wine cellars, testing everyone’s wine.
Nowadays, the authentic Törggelen always includes new wine and chestnuts. That’s why you can only talk about the törggelen in areas where grapevines and chestnut trees grow. The Isarco Valley is one of these places where the törggelen still plays a fundamental role.
The Abbey of Neustift
The first stop of our weekend in South Tyrol was the Abbey of Neustift, founded in the 12th Century by the Blessed Hartmann, elected Bishop of Bressanone. Today, the abbey is an active convent and a boarding school for students, it hosts a breathtakingly-beautiful library, the property includes woods, meadows, hunting reserves, as well as producing apples and, more importantly, wine. The wine cellar at the Abbey of Neustift is the most northern one in Italy. Here, we tasted their most famous wines, Kerner, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer, finishing off with a Moscato Rosa which succeeded in winning over my heart, someone who almost completely abstains from alcohol. A wine with an unmistakable perfume of roses, so strong that it could be the perfect Valentine’s Day gift: to make sure we’re prepared, we have already done just that.
From here, the chestnut trail begins, the Keschtnweg, a 60km course which winds through the chestnut trees covering the Isarco Valley all the way to Bolzano.
Lunch at Glangerhof
An up-hill walk in amongst the chestnuts brought us to lunch at a farm immersed in green –the perfect spot to build up your strength again after the trip and in time for the autumnal törggelen. Even if we opted for the snack, we sat down to enjoy the view over the valley and tucked into a board of cheeses, speck, venison ‘bresaola’, barley soup, potatoes, Krapfen pastries and wine produced on the premises.
A break at Radoar
The company Radoar can be found at the second stop of the Keschtnweg. They have vineyards, orchards, chestnuts and a few cows: they are a farmhouse, they produce wine, brandies, apple juice, a company known for its organic production methods since ’97. The Radoar farm is 700 years old and is named after the ladin word for rounded, as round as the wheel which they have chosen as their symbol. The wheel with eight spokes, the wheel of existence, represents organic farming for them, sustainability and the great variety of production on the farm.
On this occassion, we didn’t try any wine, but a chestnut brandy, which not only left a wonderful feeling of freshness in your mouth, but also a sharp, distinct aroma of chestnuts.
Lighting of the “Keschtnfeuer” at Griesserhof
We walked, we tasted wines, brandies and plates of speck, and at last the time came to light the fire for the chestnuts, devoured with a glass of new wine. At first sight, I was convinced it was apple juice since it was the first time I had ever seen a new white wine. It goes without saying that the wine perfectly complimented the chestunuts, an aperitivo from times past, a moment of joy, eyes open wide and smiling before the bonfire.
Vinum Hotel Pacherhof
Antiquity and modernity live together here. This is one of the aspects which struck me about the company, and about the whole of Alto Adige. Next to an eleventh century farm, you find a modern structure, built out of cement and glass. Here, the new doesn’t shy away, but instead it is enhanced; it is made to stand out, to contrast, while, at the same time, it pays tribute to the old and respects it. This issue is evident throughout all of the Pacherhof hotel, from the living room with armchairs to the newly renovated wine cellar.
Here as well, the wine tasting was followed by a traditional lunch, finished off with ricotta dumplings with apple sauce, which alone was worth the visit.
Questa è stata la mia prima volta in Alto Adige, sicuramente non sarà l’ultima. Qui ho raccolto per voi qualche link utile alla vostra prossima visita: c’è tempo fino a fine novembre per vivere l’esperienza del Törggelen.
- Se volete vivere anche voi il törggelen con il suo vino novello e le caldarroste, qui trovate tutte le info.
- Qui potete scaricare le informazioni sul Keschtnweg.
- Qui tutte le informazioni sull’Abbazia di Novacella, su come visitarla e come partecipare a un bel tour con degustazione di vini.
- Qui il sito di Radoar e qui la mappa del sentiero del castagno.
- Questo è invece il sito dell’azienda Pacherhof, un ambiente incantevole.
- Tommaso ha fatto invece una storia su Steller: non perdetela!