Marcelo Belmonte, viticultural director of Trapiche, Mendoza, Argentina could have talked to us about clones, trellis systems, irrigation and everything you might want to know about vine farming in the desert climate of Mendoza … and he did. In fact I’ve learnt more about viticultural methods from Argentinean agricultural engineers (as they call them over there) than from anyone – notably from Pedro Marchevsky, previously with Catena for many years, now working with his wife Susana Balbo at their own venture Dominio del Plata. It was Pedro who – in a one-hour drive in his pick-up truck from Agrelo down to Tupungato – taught me the pros and cons of drip vs flood irrigation (flood is good to prevent phylloxera), ranted against organic viticulture as a marketing man’s creation (protesting how difficult it was even in such a dry climate as in Mendoza – there are plenty of pests), pointed out how a big American winery with more money than sense (Kendall-Jackson) had established a vineyard in the ‘wrong place’ because they hadn’t listened to the advice of the locals and more … a couple of years later, they sold up!
However, squashed into the tiny El Gaucho restaurant in Chelsea Farmers Market in London, Marcelo really wanted to tell us about his very special growers. He talked about the highly educated Carlos with his divided canopy on paral, about José who has developed a divided vertical trellis training system, unique in Argentina, about 66-year old Francisco, who uses the ‘Pini’ system that has five vines attached to a post on a high vertical trellis, like a pyramid, a system used somewhere in Italy (possibly Sicily) that only gives 2.6 Tons/Hectare yield, but of fabulous quality. The story of one grower moved us all … A team from Trapiche were looking for good vineyards and came across an old Malbec vineyard in La Consulta in the Uco Valley that they really liked the look of. There was an old man, in his 70s working the vineyard – possibly the foreman they thought, so they engaged him in conversation … he told them more about the vineyard, but when they said they wanted to buy the fruit, he answered straight away: “you have to go talk to my father!”. His father Felipe Villafañe was around 96 years old and still active and very lucid! He died a couple of years ago aged 104 years, and the Trapiche winemaker, Daniel Pi has said about the wine they made from the vineyard: “it should age as well as the man.”
Trapiche is one of those New World wineries that manages to be both big and beautiful. Owned by the giant wine company Peñaflor, it owns more than 1,000 hectares of vineyards and buys in as well from about 100 growers. There are about 20,000 hectares of Malbec in Argentina, and like many wineries, Trapiche wants to make the best one … it has more resources than most. Most exciting for the Trapiche team to work with and for us to hear about is the Single Vineyard Malbec project, which started with the 2003 vintage – the 2005 wines have just been launched. From extensive tastings, each vintage Trapiche selects Malbecs from three growers and bottle their wines separately, putting each grower’s name on the labels. The growers have become little heroes in Mendoza as they have been written about in the media, not just in Mendoza, but worldwide.
We tasted the three wines from each of the three vintages. These are serious, ageworthy Malbecs, aged in new French oak for 18 months and retailing at around £19.99 (through independents – and listed also in restaurants). My favourites were from Pedro Gonzalez, whose vineyard is in El Cepillo at 1000 metres altitude in the southernmost part of the Uco Valley – his fruit was selected in both 2003 and 2004 and the wines showed tremendous structure as well as lovely floral and dark fruit characters. As for old Felipe’s 2003 wine, it too was wonderful with big, ripe sweet tannins and a chocolaty, spicy edge … I don’t think it will make 100 years, but it will last very well indeed.
Trapiche is generous with information and humanity. Marcelo spoke fluently in English sharing his stories and letting us make our own minds up about the wines. I’ve heard winemaker Daniel Pi speak equally well, educating us about the varied terroirs in Mendoza (a province about the size of England), which the Single Vineyard project aims to point out. Differences in altitude and proximity to the Andes mountains are important, and equally so is the dedication of José, Felipe, Pedro, Carlos et. al.
It would have been great to taste these wines in situ in Mendoza, but with excellent Argentine steak, which we ate simply with chips at the wonderfully basic El Gaucho restaurant (www.elgaucho.co.uk), I was briefly transported back there.
Don’t forget there’s a discount code D1BLG07 you can still use for reduced subscriptions on www.winetravelguides.com – see the posting in June.