Rediscover the old vines of Argentina – the drinks business

Argentina is home to many wine treasures, but its wealth of old vineyards, many of which are over 100 years old, are perhaps the most valuable.

Vineyards in Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. (Credit: Garcia Betancourt)

According to the Observatorio Vitivinícola Argentino, about a third of all Argentine vineyards are at least 40 years old, many of them over 100 years old. What sets the old vines of Argentina apart is that they are ungrafted and grown from mass selected vines, rather than clonal material. They do not bear the burden of phylloxera and therefore offer a genetic makeup that other wine producing countries simply cannot reproduce.

“3,800 ha of Argentine vineyards are over 80 years old and 13,000 ha between 60 and 80 years old. That’s quite a feat for a wine country, ”says Madeleine Stenwreth, Master of Wine and Argentine wine consultant. Some 43,000 ha are between 40 and 60 years old, or about 20% of the total plantations.

“It’s unique in a global context,” says Stenwreth. “However, few growers use it to communicate their USP. There’s a lot more talk of elevation and soils rich in calcium carbonate. It almost feels like they take it for granted that they have such a treasure trove of old vines.

Why are old vines so special?

Old vines have had decades to adapt to their climate, allowing a vineyard to produce grapes that ripen steadily to produce more concentrated and intense flavors, with quality increasing year by year, despite declining yields. .

“I am totally convinced that old vines that have stood the test of time have deserved the opportunity to really get old,” adds Stenwreth. “They naturally become less productive with age, so the quality of the fruit must have been good enough for the winemaker to have kept the vines in the ground.”

There is no legal requirement as to what constitutes an old vine in Argentina, but it is widely accepted that terms like old vines, old vineyards, viñas viejas, or old vines apply to wines made from vines at less than half a century.

“Highlighting the age of the vines brings into play an important aspect of a wine’s heritage,” adds Stenwreth. “Respect for heritage is more important than ever, especially given the historic loss of vineyards due to trends that come and go. Once these treasures are uprooted, there is no turning back.

“There is so much grandeur to be found in Lujan de Cuyo”

Most of Argentina’s old vines are concentrated in Mendoza, the epicenter of historic wine production, particularly in Luján de Cuyo. Here one finds an abundance of low trained vineyards planted in the 1920s.

“It has been too easy to forget these more traditional areas amid the hype of high altitude vineyards further south in the Uco Valley,” says Stenwreth. “Producers, as well as sommeliers and international communicators, need to remember not to just highlight the ‘new neighborhood kids’ in the ‘new’ hot spots. There is so much grandeur to be found in Lujan de Cuyo.

Lagarde is one of Mendoza’s most historic producers, using grapes from 115-year-old vines at his Finca Drummond vineyard in Mayor Drummond, producing Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon under his Primeras Viñas label.

Lujan from the sky (Photo credit: Carlos Calise)

Vistalba is one of the most historic sub-regions of Luján de Cuyo, home to some of Argentina’s oldest vineyards.

Trivento produces its Eolo Malbec here from selected plots from a vineyard planted in 1912. De Ángeles produces a range of Malbec from selected plots planted in 1924, while Kaiken’s MAI label is made from grapes sourced from a 125-year-old vineyard.

Nieto Senetiner’s Don Nicanor Single Vineyard Malbec Finca Villa Blanca is made from vines planted in 1900. While Bodega Norton produces a single Malbec vineyard – Lote Agrelo – from 98 year old vines.

Trapiche winemaker Daniel Pi, the driving force behind Argentina’s quest for a single Malbec vineyard, works with local producers such as the Coletto family in the Uco Valley, to produce wines from old vines. This gave rise to two Malbecs from a single vineyard: Trapiche Terroir Series Coletto Malbec from 60-year-old vines; and Trapiche Terroir Series Orellana, from a 70-year-old high altitude vineyard.

The Angelica de Catena vineyard was planted in 1930 with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in Maipu, Mendoza, and played an important role in preserving genetic material for future generations as part of a larger planting program. .

“In recent years, we have been exposed to beautiful wines made by a young and dynamic generation of winemakers such as brothers Michelini and German Massera, as well as by very experienced winemakers such as Roberto de la Mota,” adds Stenwreth. .

Winemaker Roberto de la Mota, from Mendel, produces Malbec from vines planted in 1928, as well as a 70 to 80-year-old Semillon of ungrafted vines from three different sub-regions of the Uco Valley: Altamira , La Consulta and San Carlos.

A group of winegrowers that includes Matias Riccitelli (República del Malbec), Cheval des Andes, Luigi Bosca (Finca los Nobles) and the winegrowers of the Durigutti family (Proyecto Las Compuertas) are also working to protect the vineyards planted in 1927 in Las Compuertas , in the upper reaches of Lujan de Cuyo.

Uco Valley

The Uco Valley is known for its modern approach to winemaking, but here too a wealth of historic vineyards can be found, and at great elevations too.

Pamela Alfonso, winemaker in Alta Vista, makes a trio of unique vineyard wines from vineyards over 70 years old in Las Compuertas and El Cepillo in the Uco Valley, and a third from Agrelo in Mendoza. “Our vineyards are unique because they have had more than 100 years to adapt to their terroir,” explains Alfonso. “They are in perfect balance with their climate and their soil and the grapes thus reach optimum maturity. Such genetics cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

In Tupungato, Atamisque produces wines from old vines under its Catalpa line, including a 70-year-old Malbec from vines and another from 50-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon in San José. Rutini makes excellent use of vines aged up to 80 years in the Gualtallary, Altamira and La Consulta sub-regions of the Uco Valley for his Antologia series.

Other producers include those founded by Jeff Mausbach and Alejandro Sejanovich (former alum of Bodega Catena Zapata). Their Tinto Negro winery produces 1955 Malbec Vineyard from vines planted in La Consulta in 1956 at an altitude of 3000 m. Their smaller Bodega Teho label includes Grand Cru Le Velours – a very limited Malbec made from vines planted in 1940 in La Consulta.

Northern Argentina

Vineyards in Salta. (Credit: Garcia Betancourt)

In the north, the extreme age of the vines rubs shoulders with the extreme altitude.

“I have tasted some incredible wines from very old vines in northern Argentina, like Torrontés and Criolla,” recalls Stenwreth, which stands out from the densely fruity and extracted wine styles that are typically found in the top of the range.

Bodega el Esteco, in Cafayate, was one of the first to separate the old plots of Torrontés and Criolla, followed by Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, using concrete eggs to allow the fruit to express levels of quality “unpublished”, she adds.

The Vieilles Vignes range from El Esteco is made up of wines from vines planted between 1945 and 1958; Torrontés 1945, Criolla 1958, Malbec 1946 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1947.

Colomé, in the Calchaquí Valley, has a vineyard originally planted in 1831, used to produce its Colomé 1831 Malbec. A Cabernet Sauvignon is also planned.

Agustín Lanús Wines, in Cafayate, produces a range of wines from old vines, including Sunal Ilogico Criolla Chica, made from vines planted in 1906.

“For me, old vines symbolize balance; the tannins are much rounder and more complex and the complexity and aromatic compounds are more intense ”, explains Lanús. “The vine is intelligent enough when ripe to balance the yield, so it gives lower yields than young vines, but higher concentration and complexity. “

Criolla vines planted in 1906 (Credit: Vins Agustin Lanus)

Patagonia

Further south, Patagonia is home to several vineyards over 100 years old, with old vines of Semillon, Trousseau, Pinot Noir and Malbec. Here, the Rio Negro is the epicenter of the production of old vines.

Matías Riccitelli started a project here in 2015, resulting in an old-vine Semillon, Merlot and Malbec from vines planted in Rio Negro in the late 1960s. Its Vieilles Vignes de Patagonie range has recently expanded to include include a Bastardo and a Torrontés following the discovery of another vineyard dating from the mid-20th century.

Another pioneer in the region is winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers, who stumbled upon a ‘once in a lifetime’ pre-phylloxera vineyard planted in 1932 in 1998. This resulted in the founding of Bodega Noemia, in the province of Neuquen. from the Rio Negro valley. , and its flagship product Noemia Malbec.

Nearby, Bodegas Chacra produces a Pinot Noir from vines planted between 1932 and 1955, while its neighbor Humberto Canale produces Old Vine wines from Malbec, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sémillon planted between 1937 and 1969.

Old vines ‘indispensable’ for the future of wine in Argentina

Adrianna Catena sums up the importance of old Argentinian vines well, having won an award for her essay on her family’s Angelica vineyard for Jancis Robinsons’ 2021 wine writing competition.

“Argentina may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of old vines, but I hope this award will shine a light on this treasure that is ours, in its breadth and depth. value of our old vineyards, especially in relation to genetic diversity, “she says.

“With their resilience and adaptability, old vines show us the way forward. The study and preservation of this heritage are essential for the future of wine in Argentina.

Their survival is a story of adaptation and perseverance. The old vines are invaluable for the search for quality and an irreplaceable part of Argentina’s wine heritage.


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