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.

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