Zuccardi: Further division ‘next step’ for Argentina

Division of vineyards in Mendoza has not gone far enough, believes Sebastian Zuccardi, third generation winemaker of Zuccardi, who suggests that the ‘next step’ is to subdivide sub regions such as Gualtallary and Altamira to better express its multitude of soils.

Sebastian Zuccardi, third generation winemaker of Zuccardi

Argentina is in the midst of an ongoing effort to discover its terroir, splitting up regions and defining new sub regions. However Zuccardi believes that the country will reach a stage when even further division will be necessary, drawing comparisons to the Burgundian way of vineyard management.

“In the future we will have to divide again because parts of Gualtallary are not the same as others and it’s the same for La Consulta,” said Zuccardi speaking to the drinks business on a recent visit to the region.

“The first step is divide, but the next step is that inside of these places we will need to divide again and create more divisions. When you make a Malbec from each location you have five wines that are completely different. One of our big changes is that we started talking about different places. If you only talk about the grape you are not talking about the things that give identity to the wines. We must talk about regions.”

Offering evidence of this need, Zuccardi pointed toward his newest vineyard in Altamira, which is within La Consulta in the Uco Valley. Positioned at 1100masl, the vineyard is called “Piedra Infinita” (Infinite Stones), due to the 1,000 truck-loads of rocks that had to be removed from the site before its first vines could be planted in 2007.

From 2009 Zuccardi started dividing this vineyard by soil type and vinifying separately, because it was “completely different from five metres to the next”. Within just one of its 6.5 hectare blocks, Zuccardi identified 10 different soils.

“This way of working changed everything for us,” he said. “The only way to explore the different styles and expression of out wines it through the place,” said Zuccardi. “We are not looking any more for the perfect wines, but for wines that talk about place. From this vineyard I wanted to make top wines that talked about place and not the grape, which was something crazy at the time. It was like it was impossible to sell a wine from Argentina without talking about Malbec.”

Zuccardi’s new winery in Altamira opened in March 2016

Zuccardi is not the only producer to be micro dividing its vineyard and vinifying its wines separately, but it was among the first. Exploration of terroir and soils is now one of the key objectives of many winemakers in Argentina, which Zuccardi says has somewhat usurped a preoccupation with altitude.

“For many years people were very concentrated on altitude,” he said. “We were all talking about altitude at the time [2009]. We were one of the first to start work with soil and division and this was another very strong innovation in Argentine wines. When we started this division we understood that the work was to divide the vineyard but then manage the vineyard in a different way in terms of harvest.”

As Zuccardi points out, grapes growing in stony soils will be harvested at a different time to those planted in soils without stones. It is these stones, which are white and calcareous on the outside and granite on the inside, that Zuccardi believes give “texture” to its wines.

“For us this is one of the keys to the place,” said Zuccardi. “I believe that the chalk came from the Andes and gives to the wine more texture. I don’t like to talk about minerality because I think it’s very complicated, but this chalk gives a lot of texture to the wines. It’s not possible to prove in a scientific way, but when you taste wines from chalky soils in Burgundy, Champagne all of these wines have something in common. The feel of the tannins.”

Zuccardi’s concrete egg line up

The first wines from Zuccardi’s Piedra Infinita vineyard, which is planted largely with Malbec, along with smaller planting os Cabernet Franc and Bonarda, were produced with the 2008 harvest. Its architecturally stunning winery, also located at the vineyard, opened in March 2016. The facility is built almost entirely from concrete, such is Zuccardi’s love of the material.

The winery houses 150 concrete vats, made up of 2,000 litre eggs, 3,000 litres round and 5 to 7,000 litre conical concrete vats, used to both ferment and age his wine. Very few barrels are used, with Zuccardi preferring to use either 500 litres barrels that are at least three years old, or larger 1000 litres foudres when he does.

“For me concrete is so special,” said Zuccardi. “Our focus is to make wines that can talk about the place and can give a strong expression. If we want to do that, we need to reduce the impact of our winemaking. One of the big things we did was to reduce the use of oak. Why? Because the oak gives flavours and aromas and tastes that come not from the vineyard but from the winemaking. When you overwork wines from Uco the wines are going to be similar.”

Describing the impact of concrete on a wine compared with stainless steel Zuccardi said that stainless steel “has an energy and works like a battery – the wines are more nervous”, while wines in concrete “are quieter”.

“The most important thing is philosophy,” he adds. “We feel much more comfortable working with natural materials so if we do everything well in the vineyard we need to vinify in a place where we feel comfortable and we feel concrete respects much more the expression of our place.”

Zuccardi’s Concreto is perhaps the pinnacle of Zuccardi’s love of concrete, produced from Malbec grown in the most extreme chalky soils of its Piedra Infinita vineyard, using whole bunch fermentation and ageing in concrete, resulting in a highly textural wine.

But while concrete, and eggs in particular, are often thought of as something of a novelty, Zuccardi points out that they are “not doing anything new”.

“When you see the wineries in Argentina in the 1930s it was all concrete and foudres,” he said. “We are going back to the future. We are coming back to this old way of doing things, but with more detailed work and definition of soils. But the concrete is not an invention of ours.”

One of the biggest changes to have helped the progress of Argentina’s wine industry has been the willingness among winemakers to share information, says Zuccardi, however it will likely be the next generation that will fully benefit from their efforts.

“First we share and then we compete,” he said. “This is a big change from the generation before. The only way to put a country on the map is by working together because it’s not possible for one brand to build a whole region. The best wines will not be made by us, maybe the next generation. But we need to leave good vineyards in more places and with more knowledge about the vineyards than before.”

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