Thursday, June 5, 2014

Driving from Salta to Bodega Piattelli in Cafayate, Argentina

Cafes in Salta Along the Plaza
(March 2014) We had flown into Salta the evening before, and after checking into our hotel walked several blocks to the main plaza. The sun was just sinking behind the green mountains and cast lovely light on the beautiful pink cathedral that dominated the square. We quickly found a sidewalk cafĂ©, and enjoyed a bottle of cold Torrontes with a platter of empanadas.  We watched people stroll around the plaza, and enjoyed the balmy evening as a few musicians played for us.

The next morning, we left early to drive the 2.5 hours south to the quaint town of Cafayate, where 19 of the 26 wineries of Salta are located.  On the way we traveled through the magnificent Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas, which is a canyon with huge red rock formations and a river cutting through it.  It looks like a mini Grand Canyon, and the color of the rock vary from orange, rose, red, yellow, and tan.  On the way, we stopped for a short hike through the Devil’s Throat rock formation, called Garganta del Diablo.

Lunch on the Terrace at Bodega Piatelli

We arrived around 1pm for our lunch appointment with Jon and Arlene, owners of the magnificent Bodega Piattelli.  This is one of the most beautiful wineries in Cafayate with stunning architecture, which seems to a delightful mixture of Spanish and modern.  The winery includes an expansive visitor center and gourmet restaurant along with the fermentation cellars and barrel room.  It is surrounded by flower filled gardens and fountains, and sits perched on the side of the hill with a breath-taking view of the valley and towering red-accented mountains beyond.

Red Rock Formations on Drive to Cafayate
Jon and Arlene grew up in Minnesota, but own property in both Arizona and Argentina, due to their preference for warm, sunny climates. Indeed, the landscape of Cafayate is very similar to the high mountain deserts of Arizona, complete with the large “cardon” cactus that bear a very similar appearance to the Saguaros of Arizona.

They started building Bodega Piattelli in 2009 and opened the production facility in 2012. The brand new hospitality center, however, just opened in March 2013, and is managed by the efficient Mariella.  Altogether they have 500 acres of vineyards and produce 50,000 cases. Consulting winemaker is Roberto La Mota, Chief Winemaker is Valeria Antolin, and full-time winemaker is Alejandro Nesman.

Lunch was a magnificent three-course meal on the patio overlooking the valley. We started with empanadas and a green salad served with a 2013 Piattelli Reserve Torrontes that had a delicate floral nose with great acidity.  This was followed by tenderly cooked lamb shank with local vegetable served with the 2010 Piattelli Trinita Grand Reserva. The wine had a nose and palate of spicy berry and coffee notes, with immense concentration and well-integrated generous oak.  It was black with glowing ruby depths and was a blend of malbec, cab, and merlot.

Bodega Piattelli in Cafayate, Salta Region
Jon also let us sample a not yet released 2013 Tannat that was deep, dark, and complex with spicy and earth. The Salta region is known for its Tannats, one of the few places on earth that crafts them as well as Uruguay (and there are those who say Salta makes better tannats…).  Dessert was fresh pineapple with torrontes syrup and ice cream.  Yum!

Over lunch, Jon, Mariella, and Arlene described some of their wine tourist activities they offer at Piattelli, and I was very impressed with the innovative options.  One is called a “Sundowners” where guest have wine and snacks on the patio while they watch the sun slowly set and turn the mountains from red to purple while listening to music.  Another option is a horseback ride through the vineyards to a grove of cactus, where they barbeque empanadas and shared glasses of torrontes and malbec.  Jon mentioned that one issue is that tourists have a hard time getting to Cafayate, so he created a website that explains all of the logistics.  It is called http://grapetravel.com.

Making Torrontes at Bodega Piattelli

After lunch we had a tour of the cellars with winemakers, Valeria and Alejandro.  Since they were harvesting Torrontes that day, we were able to watch and learn about the complete process.  They pick at a potential of 13% alcohol, crush and let sit 24 hours for skin contact.  Next they press, and then let rest for another 24 hours to let gross lees settle out.

Torrontes & Malbec at Piattelli
The juice is transferred to large stainless steel tanks and innoculated with 8x16 La Fort yeast that they have found is excellent to preserve the floral aroma profile of torrontes.  Acid is usually added because Cafayate is still quite a warm and sunny region, and most winemaking requires acid additions. However, interestingly, they harvest the Torrontes grapes at different times from different blocks.  This allows them to obtain more acid and citrus notes from earlier harvests, and white floral notes and tropical fruit from later pickings.

Fermentation temperature is 16F in stainless for 10 to 15 days. When finished, the wine is racked to a new tank and protected with CO2 gas while aging for 4 to 6 months.  A small percent – usually 15% -is aged in American oak, and blended prior to bottling. Bentonite is used for fining, and the wine is usually filtered.  The regular Torrontes is bottled in August, whereas the reserve (with more oak) is bottled in December.


For the malbec, we were told they harvest from 7am to 1pm, generally around 12 tons per day at 24 to 25 brix.  A portion of the malbec juice – usually 10 % - is bled off to concentrate the must.  This is sold for bulk wine.  Acid is adjusted, and BO213 La Fort yeast is added.  The total maceration time is usually 25 days at temp of 27C with frequent pump overs.

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