Monday, June 2, 2014

Delightful Day Long Visit to Zuccardi Family Winery - Mendoza, Argentina

Hours of Operation at Zuccardi Winery
After more workshops and lectures the previous day, I was treated to a full day visiting the very hospitable Zuccardi Family Winery.  It is located in the Maipu appellation about 20 minutes from the city of Mendoza in the Santa Rosa area.

We were greeted by Julia Zuccardi, Director of Hospitality, who gave us an excellent tour beginning with the history of the estate.  She said her grandfather had started a business in 1963 selling irrigation pipe to vineyards.  To assist with sales, he planted a vineyard to demonstrate how it the equipment worked.  Eventually in 1993, he decided to use some of his grapes in the production of his own wine, so he established the Zuccardi wine brand.

Today they have more than 1000 hectares of land, and produce 20 million liters of wine per year (25 million bottles).  They also employ 800 people, and were the first in the area to open a hospitality center for wine tourists in 2001.  Now they have over 40,000 visitors per year. 

The visitor center is quite large, and is a long low building next to the winemaking facilities.  It also includes an art museum, a large wine shop, and rooms for private tastings.  Across the street, hidden in the vineyards, are two highly rated restaurants, which are so famous they require advance reservations.  In addition there is a fully operational olive mill.

Product Lines and Exporting

Julia informed us that Zuccardi export wine to 49 countries with Canada  as #1 and the US as #2.  They have 5 product lines:  Zuccardi (top), Santa Julia (lower priced for Argentine market), Sparkling, Fortified – Malamado (Mablec done the port way; also means “bad love”), and Fuzion for Canada market.  To support these five product lines, they have divided the winery into 5 different sections and have five winemakers.  We learned that in Argentina it is not legal to add sugar to wine, so sparkling wine production, which includes the addition of sugar with the dosage, must be under a separate legal entity and is taxed differently.

The Past and Zuccardi's Present Focus on Innovation

Julia also explained how in the past the Argentina population (now 40 million strong) used to have a high wine consumption rate – at 95 liters per person.  However the wine was very poor quality. Ironically it was the introduction of beer that caused wine consumption to drop in Argentina, and therefore the wine industry had no choice but to focus on higher quality.

Today Zuccardi focuses on innovation, and to this end they are experimenting with 35 different varieties in special section of winery.  In addition, they are creating their own cement tanks in different shapes, including egg, pyramid, and amphorae shaped.  In the vineyards they are experimenting with different trellis systems and using organic farming in some blocks.

Vineyards at Zuccardi

Organic Malbec Vineyard with Parrel Trellis
I was impressed with their use of the high trellis system called “Parral,” which is the original method used in Argentina imported from Italy.  It consists of  vines trained to about 6 feet tall with wide spacing 10 feet by 4.  They use old tree limbs to hold up the trellis and the vins and grapes from a canopy overhead.  Workers must walk inside and harvest from above, as the grapes form the ceiling.  Interestingly, the Malbec is cane pruned.

Winemaking at Zuccardi

Harvest was in full swing as we wandered through the winery, and we were able to see malbec grapes being destemmed, lighted crushed, and moved into cement tanks for fermentation.  We visited the barrel room, and I was impressed to see oak barrels made of French, American, and Slovonian oak.  The winery is certified Fair Trade and ISO.

When I asked if they purchase grapes, Julia said they do buy Torrontes from Salta, because it has such lovely acidity and aromas from that region.  She also informed us that they have many vineyards in the hills of the Uco Valley, and plan to build a new winery there focusing only on the high-end Zuccardi line.  She said the soil there is alluvial, and “the hills are below the soil.” 

Wine Tasting at Zuccardi

After the winery tour, we were ushered into a private tasting room upstairs with colorful local paintings on the wall.  One of Zuccardi’s top Hospitality Reps guided us through an expert tasting of the following 7 wines:

1.     Zuccardi Series Torrontes 2012 from Salta– floral and lemon nose, intense concentration on palate, great acidity, bone dry.  Complex.  Aged sur lies.  Good food wine.  105 pesos.
2.     Bonarda Santa Rosa Region 2010 – red purple color, soft nose of plum, fruitcake and spice.  Soft tannins, elegant, good acidity. Shorter finish.  Bonarda is same as French grape Cobo = DNA
3.     Tempranillo Q 2010 - from Santa Rosa. Opaque purple red color.  Nose of dried tomato and cherry with dill and tabacco.  American oak aged for 12 months.  Bigger tannins.  Similar to a Muga Crianza.
4.     Zeta 2010 Malbec Cab Blend from Uco Valley.  Dark black purple.  Spice and black berry nose with some pepper on palate.  Big velvety tannins, good structure, lovely acidity. 13% Cab
5.     Aluvional 2009 Malbec, Uco Valley, special vineyard at higher elevation – dark red black. Nose of raspberry and spice.  Hugely concentrated pure fruit.  Oak very well integrated.  Like velvet in the mouth.  Very long finish.  Made in concrete.  My favorite.
6.     Emya 2012 Bonarda – named after grandmother who is 88 and still working at winery.  The best Bonarda I’ve ever tasted.  Plum, Chocolate on nose with more on palate plus spice and coffee bean.  Smooth tannins, good concentration, savoury note.  Very long finish.  60% from Santa Rosa, 30% from San Jose, and 10% from Altimira with chalky soil.  Very little oak – only 7%, rest concrete
7.     2011 Tito Blend (named for uncle) 68% Malbec, 17% cab, 15% Ancellota.  30% whole cluster pressed.  Earthy nose with spice and dark cassis on palate with red plum.  A big wine, with slightly hollow center and hot finish. NOTE:  Ancellota is grape that apparently has good reputation in Argentina and is doing well.  It is from the Emila-Romagna part of Italy and is the secondary grape of Lambrusca.  Also found in Switzerland.

Amazing 3 Hour Lunch at Zuccardi

After the tasting we walked across the road to visit the olive oil press, and learn how the olive are processed.  Next we stopped by both restaurants – one based on an Italian theme using local sustainable products, and the second one focusing on Argentina BBQ methods.  A table was waiting for us at this restaurant and we settled in for a normal 3 hour Argentine lunch, which was so fabulous that there was no need to eat dinner that evening.

Lunch started with empanadas served with Torrontes.  Next was a fresh organic salad just picked from the garden.  This was followed by grilled vegetables hot off the BBQ.  Next a huge platter of mixed BBQ meats, and finally dessert which I could barely eat.  All of this was accompanied by  high-end Zuccardi wines.

Over lunch we met Julia’s father and her brother,  Sebastian, the winemaker.  Sebastian was kind enough to explain how he made the Aluvional 2009 Malbec. Hand picked and sorted in vineyard, then again on a sorting table at the winery. Use all natural yeast.  Put in Concrete eggs, usually about 2 days before ferment starts, but not deliberate cold soak.  25 – 30 days total maceration.  Adds 20 to 30% whole cluster, but rest destemmed and lightly crushed.  Feels whole clusters helps reduce alcohol by 1%, and add more structure and tannins, which helps with longer aging.  3 days of delestage and remainder pigeage.  Uses verticle press, but mainly free run in this wine.  70% new French oak for 12 – 18 months, but moving towards less oak.  Next year will try aging in large oak foudres instead.

Wine Tourism at Zuccardi

As we finished lunch, I asked Julia more about the wine tourist site of the business for which she is responsible.  She admitted that it became profitable after 5 years, but their main intent is still public relations and education.  They are one of the few wineries in Mendoza that is open 7 days a week, and the only winery to be open on Sundays.   She said the restaurants are both very popular, and that olive oil sales are picking up because they are one of the few establishments that put the vintage date on their oil olives.  They also offer many fun tourist activities such as cooking classes, including one for kids, as well as biking, hot air balloon, and old car tours in the vineyard.

As we left Zuccaradi Family Winery, I could help but be impressed with all the family had accomplished.  To me, they seemed like the Mondavi family in Napa Valley whose vision was to welcome and educate visitors, and by doing so they ended up putting Napa Valley on the map in the 1960’s.  The Zuccardi’s, with their passion, vision, and energy, are doing the same for Mendoza.  I left with a very warm feeling, and am extremely grateful for my amazing day at Zuccardi.

1 comment:

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