A lesson in Argentinian viticulture

As the core of Argentina’s wine industry, Mendoza, located at the foothills of the Andes, a 16 hour bus ride west of Buenos Aires, is particularly known for Malbec.  I spent a day visiting vineyards across the different areas of Mendoza with Nicolas Cordoba Micarelli, who is in charge of the vineyards for Kaiken Wines in Mendoza.

I learned a lot visiting a bunch of their different vineyards with Nicolas, travelling all over Mendoza, to vineyards with a range of different climates, altitudes, and soil types.

At a few vineyards we took samples of berries (important to take berries from different rows, different vines, different bunches, different sides of bunches, etc. to be sure to get as much representative a sample as possible.  These samples will be analyzed for the acid and sugar content in order to assess their ripeness and determine when to harvest.

But because we had so much ground to cover in one day, Nicolas assessed several of the vineyards Nicolas just by looking at them, or in some cases by tasting the berries.  He taught me some of the key things to look for at this time of year.  For example, the canopy isn’t overgrown, as that would indicate that the vine is sending its energy to the leaves instead of focusing on ripening the fruit.  Dying leaves toward the bottom of the vine are indicative of water deprivation, but they have to cut off the irrigation as harvest draws near to prevent too much vigor in the canopy, so this is a bit of a delicate balance.

Nicolas also gave me his take on what to look for when tasting grapes in the vineyard.

1.  How easy is it to separate the pulp from the seed? (this gets easier with increasing ripeness, as I was also taught at Pinord Priorat)

2. Spit out the seed and look at the color – it changes from green to brown with ripeness.

3. Taste the flavor of the grape of course – checking the balance between acidity and sugar.

4. Always chew the skin the same number of times, to be able to accurately compare the tannins between different berries.  How hard/green/soft/etc. are they?

5.  Spit out the skin and assess its color as well.

Amazing how much a systematic approach like this helps you get much more out of tasting! It definitely helped to taste differences between berries, though much more experience is required before I’ll be able to know how those differences would translate into a finished wine!!

And finally, a billboard in Mendoza city.  Not sure quite how to feel about this…

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