150 years ago, a chapel stood on the banks of the Eisack river in Bozen, next to the modern-day Loreto bridge. When the Eisack broke its banks at that spot, it washed the bridge and the chapel away. 60 years later buried in the mud, an undamaged wooden statue of Mary from the Loreto chapel was found to the south of the town. Miraculously, it had survived the years in its muddy tomb undamaged. So goes the legend that gives this area its name: Engelmoos, which means angel’s marsh. This is where the Alessandrini family lives on their farm.
Helmuth’s grandfather was a winemaker and a defining figure in the family history. He married his wife for love – not always a primary factor back then, and he inherited a farm with some small plots of land. But Helmuth’s grandfather insisted the farm should not be turned over to him. Instead, he sought his fortune as a cattle trader. When buying cows and calves in Austria, he couldn’t pay the farmers straightaway. So, he promised to return in a few months and repay them properly. He rented a stable for the animals and sold them on at markets for a profit. No sooner said than done: he went back to Austria and paid the farmers, just as agreed. A true story of trust and honesty.
A trustworthy cattle trader, who expanded the farm, step-by-step. He used the profit to buy land south of Bozen and planted pears – the channels of the Etsch river make the flinty ground here perfect for fruit growing. Soon Kaiser Alexander and Williams pears were flourishing and being harvested in cushioned baskets.
Under Helmuth’s father’s management, the pears gradually gave way to apples. And a small revolution gave the yields a boost: motorised machines were introduced on the farm. Even while he was still at school, Helmuth got stuck in with youthful energy and quickly became a passionate tractor driver. After two years of college studies in Laimburg learning about fruit and wine growing, he joined the farm. With fresh ideas, bold visions and new building plans.
A stone’s throw from the family home, Helmuth and his wife Marlene have built a new farmstead. Its almost divine name is inspired by the legend: Engelmooshof. The family lived here amid the apple meadows with their three sons, and as the sons left they were joined by guests. Marlene manages the B&B guestrooms in the spirit of the principles that guided her mother, who was a cook: “Rushing won’t get you anywhere, good things need time.” Now and then Helmuth treats their guests to home-made delicacies like apple strudel jam – and he frequently leaves his favourite apple variety Natyra® in the rooms as a snack. Guests’ smiley faces are the proof of their exquisiteness.
“A promise is an unwritten law that must be kept.”
Helmuth lives by the words and the values of his grandfather. Anyone who encounters his trustworthiness and persuasiveness can’t help but trust him immediately. His ability to carry an audience, to motivate people, is one of his strengths. He has been using those strengths for over 30 years, working for the common good as the president of the Bozen bonification syndicate (looking after local ditches, channels, and irrigation pipes) and as the long-standing chairperson of the local farmers’ union. It’s completely alien to him to exclude people with different opinions or poke fun at them.
However, in the beginning, the organic pioneers of the South Tyrol were mocked. But Helmuth never took part. That’s a good thing, because in 2010 his son Klaus suggested switching to organic production. Helmuth needed four or five months to think it through. But the genuine warmth and open communication of the experienced organic farmers rapidly confirmed the Alessandrinis’ decision. During field inspections, the difficulties are made crystal clear; there’s no mincing of words or softening of blows. And this exchange of experiences helps, because the first two years of the switch were not easy.
After just a few months Helmuth and Klaus felt like old hands. They soon had the courage to introduce apple varieties that divided opinion: excellent on the pallet, but tricky to grow. The perfect example of this is Natyra®.
They both lived up to their characters with their enthusiastic engagement with the organic farmers’ cooperative. Always making time for the cooperative: at tastings, they present various apple varieties and never get tired of talking about organic apple cultivation. In February 2019 Helmuth travelled to Rome to use the opportunity of a slot on the most important breakfast TV show in Italy to give the entire country a taste for growing organic apples.
At 68 years old, the Biosüdtirol farmers elected Helmuth as a member of the governing board of the cooperative, demonstrating that trustworthiness and persuasiveness are not just trendy slogans: they are values that are just as in demand today as they were in the past. And which the cooperative cultivates, just like its members cultivate their apples.