Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trapiche Winery – Amazing History & Focus on Sustainability in Mendoza, Argentina

Entrance to Trapiche Winery
We received an unexpected invitation to visit Trapiche Winery in the morning before my first seminar, so we were delighted to accept because Trapiche is one of the largest and most famous brands in Argentina. 

The winery is located on the outskirts of Mendoza in an industrial area near the old railroad.  Established in 1883, Trapiche was the first winery to ship their wine to Buenas Aires.

The original brick winery buildings have been lovingly renovated, and now include a wine museum, the original concrete tanks in the cellar, and a beautiful tasting room on the top floor overlooking the gardens and pond in the back.  The railroad tracks still run next to the site.

The front of the property has a 4-hectare biodynamic vineyard. Nearby are cows and sheep that are used to help fertilize the vineyard.  There is also a biodynamic garden with lots of vegetables that employees are allowed to take home for free.  In addition, they have a beautiful olive orchard from which they make and sell oil in the tasting room.

Cement Tanks at Historic Trapiche Winery
We had a tour of the buildings and I was impressed to see they kept the original cement tanks for fermentation, though have a modern barrel cellar.  They also have a tasting room that is open to drop in without an appointment, which is helpful for tourists. Trapiche has 45 employees including a chef.

We met with the marketing and export managers, who confirmed that Penaflor owns Trapiche, the largest wine corporation in Argentina and the 9th largest in the world.  In addition to Trapiche, they have 4 other wineries and more than 50 brands.  They export 60% of their wine, and hope to make Trapiche a global brand. The vision is to be the most admired Argentina Winery. Their largest exports markets are US (#1), Canada, Scandinavia, Germany, and the UK.

I was impressed to learn about their social programs for employees, including investing 5% of all profits in employees, providing education, housing assistance and other efforts that are above and beyond Fair Trade requirements.  They have a program called Farm for Life in which employees are consulted on how the money is invested.

We discussed the peso de-valuation and inflation issues in Argentina, and they admitted that business was challenging because they were receiving 30% less in revenues, but costs were still the same.  The situation is especially difficult for small wineries, but their goal is to hold prices and increase export volume. 

Later we tasted some of the delicious wines of Trapiche, including some of the high-end brand malbecs.  It was like drinking liquid velvet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Visit to the Spectacular Salentein Winery in Uco Valley, Argentina

Horse Drawn Wagon in Uco Valley
After breakfast at our hotel, we left the city of Mendoza around 10am in order to make our 11am appointment at Saletein Winery in the Uco Valley.  It was a sunny warm day and we could see the snowcapped Andes mountains in the distance.  As we drove through the hills and vineyards, we passed small villages, and at one point, saw man driving a horse-drawn wagon filled with branches.

As we crested the hill and saw our first view of the Uco Valley everyone caught their breath in awe.  So we stopped the car and took photographs near the large Christo statue, and marveled at the river running through the valley with the towering mountains in the background.

There are many famous wineries in the Uco Valley now, but Salentein is one of the oldest, and started the trend of amazing architecture.  It is made with local materials of stone and olive wood, but with clever modern touches.  Like many Argentina wineries, it also includes a restaurant, an art museum, a wine shop, and serves as a special event center for concerts, weddings, and other venues.

Salentein Winery with Pinot Noir Vineyard
Developed by a Dutch industrialist in 1999, Salentein employs 200 people and produces around 700,000 cases of wine per year.  We were greeted by the general manager, who told us there was only desert and sagebrush here when he first mapped out the site.  “I rode a horse out here and stuck a stake in the ground,” he said.

After an amazing 3-course lunch of Argentina salad and steak, served with sparkling wine, then pinot noir and malbec, the GM took us on a tour of the property.  It was quite impressive with 800 hectares of vineyards.  Yield is around 9 – 10 tons per hectare, but in single vineyards on hillsides only 3 to 5 tons per hectare.

Their top of the line wine, Primus wine comes from the hillside vineyards.  The chardonnay from single vineyard is 1560 meters high.  They have a unique practice of not tilling the ground.  Interestingly, one issue they have in the vineyard is wild pigs problem eating the grapes in the higher elevations. 

Artistic Cellars of Salentein
The winery itself is a work of art, with a 3 story gravity flow design and a grand piano on the bottom floor amongst the barrels.  They also have some amazing stone tables that are made from slabs at least 20 feet long.  The winery is ISO certified and carbon neutral.  We did not meet with a winemaker here (though they have three), so no detailed notes on winemaking processes.

Later we toured the art museum, chapel and visited the peaceful B&B they have onsite.  I was surprised to learn that the visitor center is not yet profitable.  It is used primarily as a PR tool, however the wine shop is more profitable than the other venues, such as restaurant and lodging.  They export 40% of their production, and are using a “stability strategy focusing on quality and terroir.”

Some of the wines we tasted included: 1) Saletein Brut Nature (Charmant) from Uco Valley lovely pink color, 50% pinot and 50% chard.  Fresh, fruity and simple; 2) Primus Pinot Noir 2007, Uco Valley – made from grapes right outside winery (we walked through them).  Primus is highest brand.  Medium ruby color, nose of raspberry jam.  On palate more jam and spice.  A little hot, with a long finish; and 3) Salentein 2012 Malbec Reserve – dark purple color – beautiful to look at.  Classic nose of mixed dark berry, blue.  Light well integrated oak with only 8 to 10 months.

On the drive back to Mendoza, I fell asleep I the car.  After the large lunch, we went out later and picked up a salad that we had with some wine in our hotel room.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Visiting the Town of Chakras and Carinae Winery in Mendoza, Argentina

Malbec Vine in Mendoza Vineyard
On Monday after a visit to the University of Cuyo in Lujan and a meeting with the Dean and other wine economics professors, we visited the charming “wine village” of Chakras.  It is situated in the middle of the vineyards and wineries, and just a short 20-minute drive from downtown Mendoza.  Filled with shops and restaurants, I thought this would be an ideal place in the future for wineries to establish mini-tasting rooms, similar to the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

We had an excellent lunch at the Chakras at Tea & Company where we were served fresh organic food, salads, and unique teas. 

After lunch, which ended around 4:30, we drove around looking for a winery that was open so we could taste wine.  The first one we stopped at had large barred gates and windows with a security guard, and there was no sign posted outside with their tasting hours.  Eventually the guard opened the gate and informed us that because we had missed the last tour we could not come in and taste wine. This surprised me, but apparently it is a common practice to require tourists to go on a tour before tasting.  It is also normal to have large security gates at wineries because of past robberies.  Argentina still has a large population of people living in poverty, and it is possible to see “shanty towns” built of tin and cardboard which are called “villages miserables.”

Despite being turned away from the first winery, we kept driving and searching for a place to taste.  However, most were closed by 4:30 in the afternoon. I was getting disappointed when we approached a small winery with a sign that said open until 6pm.  Even better they allowed visitors to drop in without an appointment.

Carninae Tasting Room
The name of the winery was Carinae , which is Latin for Constellation.  Started by a French family, they have 17 hectares of grapes and are in Lujan de Cuyo appellation.  The grow and produce malbec, cabernet sauvignon and, syrah, and each wine is named after a different Constellation.  Currently they have 15 employees and produce 100,000 bottles.

We toured the cellars, and learned about the winemaking process.  Sorting table, stainless steel fermentation, and aging in older barrels.  Interestingly, total maceration time for the high-end malbec is around 30 days.  It was also aged in French oak for 18 months.

Next we visited the malbec vineyard next to the winery.  It was quite old – at least 30 to 40 years with massive trunks on a VSP trellis with double cordon. They had mounds of soil in the middle with the channels on each side to water the vines.  As it was an old vineyard, there were olive trees growing in the middle of it, and a nearby olive orchard planted in the old way with vegetables growing underneath the trees.

Wines of Carinae
Back in the tasting room, I was surprised to see that the price to taste rivaled that of Sonoma County.  There were 7 different tasting ranging from 50 pesos ($5) for 5 simple wines to 200 pesos ($20) for all 15 wines.  I chose a mid level tasting of 5 different malbecs for 80 pesos ($8).  It was interesting, because it started with the unoaked joven malbec and when through the range to the high-end oaked Carinae Malbec Gran Reserva 2010.  I did find that I liked some oak on my malbec, and didn’t enjoy the simplicity of the unoaked ones. The Gran Reserva was dark, more complex, with some coffee and earth notes mixed with the blue berry.  I ended up buying a bottle for around $24.  The bottle prices were reasonable, even if the tastings were not.  We also paid an extra 25 pesos to taste the Passito Pink Moscato dessert wine made with dried grapes. It was aromatic, sweet, and delicious.

Our tour guide conducted the tasting, and he was very professional.  I was impressed with the obviously excellent hospitality training he had received.

That evening we went out for a steak at the Hyatt and had a glass of 2011 Rutini Malbec for 95 pesos, and it was exquisite with concentrated plush fruit and velvety tannins.

Wine Tourism Advantages & Challenges in the Mendoza Area

Dancing at Vendemia Wine Festival in Mendoza
As home to more than 400 bodegas (wineries) and with an international airport, Mendoza is a logical place for wine tourists to start. It has the advantages of large well-known wineries such as Catena Zapata, Achaval-Ferrer, Norton, Trapiche and many others. It also has a large number of wine tour companies that can schedule and transport tourists to wineries in the Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo areas near Mendoza, and an hour south to the famous Uco Valley. Plentiful restaurants with excellent food at bargain prices and upscale hotels make Mendoza and the surrounding areas an excellent choice for wine tourists.

Challenges include the long flight in getting to Mendoza, which generally requires two stopovers for most American tourists with close to 20 hours of flying time. Driving can also be challenging, as roads are not well marked and traffic rules are often ignored. Finding the wineries can also be difficult, because signage is sparse in some locations, though better in others. Poverty is still a common sight, and so many wineries have large iron gates with security guards. Tourists generally need to call and book a visit in advance, or use a tour company to help them. Surprisingly, though food and wine prices are low, tasting/tour fees can be as high as Sonoma, ranging from $5 to $15 dollar a person.

Despite these challenges, most wine tourists find they enjoy their time touring Mendoza wineries where employees are well trained and professional. Winery architecture can be impressive, ranging from Spanish, Mayan, modern, and small and modest. The annual Vendemia wine festival lasting 10 days is probably the largest and most extravagant in the world with hundreds of dancers, singers, and fireworks every evening.

In 2010 the National University of Cuyo and the Fondo tourism organization conducted a study and determined the economic impact of wine tourism was $31 million for Mendoza. Currently estimates indicate that more than 1.5 million tourists visit Mendoza wineries each year.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Snapshot of the Argentina Wine Industry

Wines Regions of Argentina
According to the National Institute of Viticulture in Argentina, the country now boasts 894 wineries, with more than 300 exporting wine to the US. The signature red grape is Malbec, which has become a favorite in the States because of its velvety texture and blueberry notes. Torrontes, which produces perfumed and spicy wines, is the signature white grape. Argentina also produces large quantities of excellent cabernet sauvignon, Syrah, tannat, merlot, and chardonnay. Its sparkling wines, which are rarely exported, are refreshing, well priced, and similar in style to Prosecco.

There are 8 major wine regions, with Mendoza snuggled up close to the Andes in the western part of the country, producing 67% of the wine and home to more than half the wineries. Other famous areas include Salta in the far northwest, home of Torrontes and some spectacular Tannat, and Patagonia (Rio Negro), in the far south with cooler temperature and a reputation for producing chardonnay and pinot noir. Other regions include San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, and smaller wineries near Cordoba and Buenas Aires.