Donna Künzler, Switzerland
Erlita Terte is the co-owner of Weingärtli winery, nestled in Ennetbürgen in the Swiss Canton of Nidwalden. Born and raised in Oscariz, Isabela, Erlita moved to Switzerland in the early 90’s after her studies and has practiced as a nurse for 25 years before she became an entrepreneur.
Becoming a Winemaker
Although Erlita loves to drink wine and especially enjoys visiting vineyards and wineries across Europe, she never had any interest in winemaking or in starting her own business.
However, when her partner Beat, who always dreamed of becoming a winemaker, could not acquire ownership to the agricultural piece of land (which was to become their vineyard) he bought a couple of years ago, little did she know that the small condition in the Swiss law will change her life dramatically. Erlita recalls, “Under the Swiss Law only Agriculturists (born or Certified) can be in possession of such piece of land. Beat actually did study winemaking but did not get certified as he was not able to do the apprenticeships due to his full time job. So he asked me if I want to study Viticulture. I gave it a serious thought and decided to pursue it since I was also looking to do something new after years of being a nurse, and I also love plants and gardening. I became curious and that motivated me to go back to school.”
Erlita then went back to school to pursue Viticulture at the Strickhof Wädenswil of Zurich’s University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).
What exactly is Viticulture? Viticulture or winegrowing is the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. It is a branch of the science of horticulture (Wikipedia).
Going back to school for Erlita was exciting but also came with challenges. Erlita recounts, “The first challenge was going back to school again sitting in a classroom with younger classmates and being the oldest in the class. The second was that lessons were conducted in the German language which was very difficult [and] third, as a woman at work doing the same work of a man was not really easy. The whole 2 years of school and work were the biggest challenges and difficulties I ever had in my whole life! It cost me a lot of tears and sweat, humiliation and pain.”
But what kept her going? Erlita tells of her traits that propelled her to success:
My curiosity for something new
My big perseverance and endurance
Ability to plan, organize and set priorities
I also took the lead, showed interest and grabbed the initiative
I am also hardworking, determined, and disciplined
Part of her studies required Erlita to have apprenticeships with wineries to gain practical experience. She fortunately got placements first at Hubervini, which is a pioneer of Merlot and Bourdeax in Switzerland, and then with Tenuta Bally, a winery that belongs to the Bally family of the fashion label Bally.
Studying Viticulture normally takes three years but in 2019, Erlita finished her diploma certificate in winemaking just in two years, owing to some subjects credited from her bachelor’s degree. Obtaining her diploma makes Erlita the first Filipina winemaker in Switzerland and perhaps Europe as well. She is definitely the ultimate plantita!
The winery, with its name literally translating to “wine garden” or “an area where grapevines grow” has been around since the 1400s.
However when Erlita and Beat took ownership of the land, Erlita narrates, “After hundreds of years the vines have since vanished; we tried to cultivate again and we wanted to carry the same name for our business. Weingärtli is the first and as of now the biggest in kanton Nidwalden to be registered by the Commission of Winemaking in Zentral Switzerland.”
While the grapes were grown in Weingärtli itself, the actual wine production happens in a rented facility in Ticino, on the Italian side of Switzerland. Erlita and Beat plans to have their own production facility within the winery in the future. Their production will concentrate on making sparkling wines.
The winery, with its rustic ambience complemented with the picturesque landscape of the lake, mountains and vineyard, can also be rented for events.
The First Vendemmia
Last month, after four years of nurturing the vineyard, it was finally time for Weingärtli’s first vendemmia. I was very fortunate to witness the winery’s first harvest. Most of the people who helped in the harvest were volunteers and a good number of them are from the Philippines — family and friends from different parts of Switzerland, as well as those from the Philippine Embassies in Bern and Geneva.
All the hard work paid off as two and a half tons of grapes were harvested from about 5,000 vines. This will yield to around 2,500 bottles of white wine Souvignier gris next year.
While we wait for a year for the sparkling wine made from Weingärtli’s first harvest, the winery in the mean time is selling wine produced from Erlita’s apprenticeship. In the long term, the plan is to expand the vineyard to double its size, build the cellar for vinification and storage, and have a showroom for customers, guests and product marketing.