“Thirteen varieties, one single product: Mela Alto Adige is the perfect symbiosis between the characteristics of the local area and attention to quality.”

Historical Background

The alpine apples of South Tyrol have been sustaining the local economy for hundreds of years and are an important part of the area’s tradition and culture. For many centuries, apple trees were planted around farmsteads and the apples were eaten by rural families. 

These “orchards” provided valuable food and also enjoyed special legal protection. The apples could only be transported beyond the provincial boundaries on a purpose-built horse-drawn vehicle called a “Kraxenträger”, or wicker basket carrier, which was used to carry various types of local fruit northwards through the Alpine passes. 

The construction of the Brenner railway line in 1867 made exporting easier and the trade in apples intensified. They were considered a luxury product at the time, and even graced the tables of the imperial courts of Vienna, Berlin and St. Petersburg.

The improvement works along the River Adige (1880-1890) led to the reclamation of the valley floor, providing valuable areas for the cultivation of apple trees. The fruit traders built the first warehouses for storing the crop during this time.

 The first fruit cooperatives were built in Burggrafenamt at the end of the nineteenth century.

Apple pickers in the early 1900s

Until the mid-nineteenth century, there was no known effective protection against the diseases and pests that attacked fruit trees. The first plant protection products became available in the 1920s and many technological innovations were also introduced (tractors, sprayers, mulchers, etc.). 

Instead of relying on a few large trees, espaliers and high-density planting became common. The size of the trees was increasingly reduced and new varieties were introduced (Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Morgenduft and Jonathan). 

AGRIOS, the working group for integrated production, was founded in 1988: its aim was to increase the amount of insects beneficial to pest control through the use of cultivation methods with a low environmental impact. In 2005, the European Union placed the name “Mela Alto Adige” PGI under protection.

Apple pickers on the typical ladders used for harvesting

The Product

The Protected Geographical Indication Mela Alto Adige, or Südtiroler Apfel g.g.A., refers to fresh fruit of the various varieties of the Malus communis Lam species: Braeburn, Elstar, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Idared, Jonagold, Morgenduft, Red Delicious, Stayman Winesap, Pinova and Topaz. 

These apples are known for their very bright skin colours, crispy flesh and long storage life. The various varieties differ in colour, texture, flavour and period of availability during the year.

The various varieties differ in colour, texture, flavour and period of availability during the year.

Production

The Mela Alto Adige PGI is grown on soft, well-drained soils that are rich in oxygen in order to develop the fruit tree roots. Nutrients are provided by a balanced use of fertilisers, through a procedure based on soil and leaf analyses.

For the entire duration of the planting, the grass is left to grow between each row so that, when regularly cut, it can provide a source of nutrients to ensure a perfect balance between the orchards and the soil.

Pruning is done each year during the winter while the trees are dormant, giving them a conical shape that allows light to penetrate the foliage.Harvesting is done exclusively by hand, with the ripe apples picked carefully. Maximum permissible production in the various areas may not exceed 68 tons per hectare.

Long-term preservation of the fruits is provided through normal refrigeration techniques: the temperature, O2 and CO2 content, and humidity are adjusted to suit each variety. 

Once harvested, the apples are transported to the plant in wooden crates and unloaded into tanks filled with cold water to facilitate selection based on colour and size, while also preventing damage to the fruit.

Pools of water where the sorting of apples happens

The product is arranged in suitable packaging with a label marked with the words Indicazione Geografica Protetta Mela Alto Adige or Südtiroler Apfel, which must be displayed in clear and indelible letters, clearly distinguishable from any other writing. 

The production systems are designed to favour the natural soil and climate qualities of the apple growing areas through the use of techniques and methods with a low environmental impact, such as integrated production and organic farming. The most commonly used planting system is in single rows.

The Local Area

The apple growing area in South Tyrol, with a total extension of 18,000 hectares, is the largest enclosed fruit growing area in Europe, even though it is divided into very small plots.South Tyrol has more than 7,000 family-run apple farms, with an average size of barely 2.5 to 3 hectares in size. 

This farm land is often divided into several plots, at times quite distant from one another, allowing the apples to grow and ripen reaching the highest quality.

The apple growing area extends from Salorno in the south, along the Adige valley and through the Burggrafenamt, as far as Val Venosta. The Sud Tyrol apple is also cultivated in Eisacktal and near Bressanone.

La posizione geografica di quest’area destinata alla frutticoltura assicura un prodotto di altissima qualità, perché il clima tipicamente mediterraneo dell’Alto Adige, caratterizzato da primavere piovose e da un’estate e un autunno assolati, è ideale per la coltivazione delle mele.

Al nord le alpi proteggono la regione dedicata alla coltivazione delle mele dai freddi venti settentrionali mentre a sud l’area è particolarmente aperta. I 300 giorni di sole e le oltre 2.000 ore di sole l’anno garantiscono alle mele le condizioni ideali per la maturazione sull’albero. 

Le precipitazioni annue, pari a 800 mm l’anno, sono sufficienti a coprire il fabbisogno idrico di base della melicoltura, anche se d'estate è necessario integrare l’apporto idrico con l’irrigazione. Durante il periodo del raccolto le notti sono fresche e le giornate temperate.

Interesting facts

Diversi sono i metodi naturali utilizzati per la protezione degli alberi da frutto durante tutto l'anno.

In primavera, al momento della fioritura, si hanno spesso gelate notturne. Con temperature sotto lo zero i produttori di mele attivano l’irrigazione antibrina: l’acqua ghiaccia sugli alberi e il calore che viene dal congelamento dell’acqua impedisce che la temperatura scenda a valori tali da danneggiare le gemme e i fiori.

Frost protection irrigation

La “confusione sessuale” è un altro metodo di controllo dei parassiti che consiste nel diffondere nell’aria il feromone sessuale che emette la femmina di ogni specifico insetto, in modo da impedire al maschio di localizzarla e di fecondarla. Il mancato accoppiamento comporterà una popolazione di larve assai diminuita e di conseguenza un minor danno ai frutti.

Pheromones for mating disruption
Credits: Story

Curator — Consorzio Mela Alto Adige

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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