When Napa lady grape growers escape to Argentina and Chile

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of South America , especially the viticulture portion in Casablanca valley, Chile and  Mendoza, Argentina. These two countries, although neighbors, practice different viticulture and wine making techniques.

Ladies resting at Bodega Archal-Ferrer , beneath the Andes

The wines did not disappoint, some of the hospitality was gruff but all in all the Malbec was fruity, the Cabernet not super tannic, the Carmenere intriguing with a full body and a deep color, and the Torrontes crisp refreshing with a beautiful aroma on the nose of Jasmine.

Mendoza

Mendoza, a desert, has been producing wine since the 1800′s.During our stay, we visited a variety of wineries from big corporate-style to lovely small boutique wineries.

We ventured through Mendoza in two different ways visiting two valleys, a bike ride through Maipu courtesy of Mr. Hugo Winery and Bikes and a hired taxi in Lujan de Cuyo. Next time after this epic 2012 harvest we will hire a Limo and tour the              up-and-coming region of the Uco Valley, supposedly where all the extreme hillside vineyards thrive.

Touring Mendoza by bike and hired car were both excellent ways to experience this wine region from viticultural, enological, and tourist point of view. The landscape was gorgeous, vineyards paired with the Andes backdrop was impeccable as well as looking at the vines bearing purple or white fruit awaiting harvest, about 8 weeks away.

Malbec awaiting the 2012 harvest, shatter came through the region as well.

The highlights of Mendoza wines were from the following Bodegas: the Brut Rose from Trapiche, the Unus blend from Mendel, the Finca Bella Vista Archal-Ferrer, the Malbec Rose from Mevi, the veranda and the Australian guys imbibing Malbec next to us really enhanced our visit,  the Torrontes from Terrazas de los Andes, the Cabernet Sauvignon from Bonfanti . For lunches we couldn’t resist the Argentine beef so we pulled off the road at a random Parilla and dined on succulent huge Bife de Chorizo Argentine steaks, accompanied by Chimichurri and Salsa Criolla of course! Muy sabroso y jugoso.

Classic cut of Argentine beef

From a grape grower and winemaker perspective , there are quite a few differences between the methods we implement in Napa and the methods that have swept Argentina.

Vineyards

The vines are trained in all sorts of methods with Cordon trained/spur pruned dominating. Irrigation is standardized across all vineyards through anal irrigation controlled by the government. Essentially the government opens the waterways every fifteen days and you can either open your canal or close it to irrigate the vines.

Lots of vineyards have gone through a variety of ownerships or re-plantings, because of this transition a lot of the vineyards are dotted with 100 year old olive trees. Peach and plum trees also decorate vineyards especially in the Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo areas.

A 100 year-old Olive tree adorns a Malbec Vineyard

Winery

Asides from irrigation and trellis differences, another difference is the recycling of wineries. Since wine making has existed for so long in Argentina, lots of wineries have changed ownership and the new owners figure out how to configure the existing winery into their general plan.

A common theme and structural element that we observed at a variety of wineries was the use of huge cement tanks that were built into the walls , these tanks could supposedly hold over 500,000 liters of wine.One winery’s approach to producing high quality boutique wines was the installation of newer stainless steel tanks within the winery and installing air-conditioning units inside the huge industrial cement tanks and turning them into barrel storage. An incredible experience to go inside the chilled barrel ‘room’,  really gave it a submarine type feel with the big door being cranked shut.

Whereas we cellar or age the bottled wine in a case flipped upside down, in Mendoza, we found the custom to be different, where bottles are laid flat on top of each other, where someone has the ability to check the corks for any faults through the aging process. After this stage, the wine is then put into the 6 bottle cases.

 

Malbec Reserva during the aging and cork inspection process

Another difference is packaging, in Argentina and Chile wine is packaged into six bottle cases instead of twelve. Due to the hands-on nature of the wine industry within both countries, cases are six bottles because essentially it is easier to pick up a six bottle case instead of a twelve bottle case.

Casablanca Valley

Chilean wines were astounding , Sauvignon Blanc and Carmere dominated tasting menus. The wineries are bigger and boutique wineries haven’t come into full force,however, things are changing. Vineyards are kept immaculate up to our Napa standards unlike some of the Argentine vineyards.  One winery we especially liked was Bodega Viña Mar, their bubbles were delicious as well as their chilled Pinot Noir and room temp Carmenere .

When your palette becomes overwhelmed by the fine wines of both Chile and Argentina , it is always a good idea to refresh with Chilean Pisco. Pisco, another alcohol sourced from wine grapes, perhaps Napa will get in on the game of Pisco production. Try out either a Pisco sour or a Pisco cocktail, might we recommend Pisco Berry or Pisco Aji for those brave souls that like a spicier digestif.

Refreshing our palettes with a delightful Chilean Pisco cocktail

Wishing everyone a warm winter and a wonderful start to spring,Cheers!