|View of Valley from San Pedro Winery|
That afternoon we visited the famous Argentine winery called San Pedro Yacochuya where we met the Etchart brothers, Marcos the winemaker and Pablo the marketing expert. The winery achieved its fame partially because they hired Michel Rolland as their consulting winemaker, and became highlighted in the movie Mondevino. In actuality they hired Michel in 1988 before he became famous, and he worked his magic on the San Pedro Yacochuya Malbec. Now Marcos continues the tradition, and the wine truly deserves its great reputation. It is huge, complex, and brimming with concentrated dark berry and spice notes.
Getting to San Pedro requires a bit of four-wheel driving, as it is located past Bodega Piattelli and up a dirt road in the foothills of the Andes. Large boulders and huge ruts plague the road, and a vehicle with high clearance is necessary to make it to the winery and tasting room. However, the drive is well worth it as you arrive at a cactus lined road and see the winery – a large adobe structure with red titled roofs and a wrap around porch with a breath-taking view of the vineyards, valley, and moutains beyond.
Touring the Vineyard
When we arrived harvest was in full swing with large ancient trucks of malbec grapes being processed within the cool confines of the cellar. Marcos and Pablo came out to greet us, shaking hands and welcoming us with typical Argentine warmth. After a few minutes Marcos asked if we wanted to see the old malbec vineyard and we nodded enthusiastically.
San Pedro boasts 35 hectares of vines in two locations, but around the winery they have 22 hectares of malbec with some vines over 100 years old. Marcos led the way into the vineyard and pointed at the soil. He explained it was a mix of limestone, sand, and rocks, and show us a deep hole where they were doing soil analysis.
The vineyard elevation is 2000 meters, or 6000 feet high. It receives plentiful sun in the mornings, but in the afternoon the Andes mountains (rising 4500 meters tall behind the vineyard, or 13,300 feet) catch the clouds, which softens the sun and provides some shade. Rainfall is only 250 ml rain per year, so drip irrigation is on the new vines just in case.
Marcos explains that the old vines are using the parrel trellis system but newer vines are on VSP with spacing around 6 x 8. When they have to plant a new vine, they use bud wood from the old ones so they can keep the clone consistent. Interestingly one of the huge issues in vineyards here is ants. Because of this it is difficult for vineyards to be certified organic.
Making the Famous San Pedro Malbec
Back in the winery, Marcos covers the winemaking process for their famous malbec. He said the grapes are usually harvested in March and April, and they get around 7 tons per hectare. The grapes are carefully hand-sorted, destemmed and some berries are lightly crushed. Next they are placed in stainless steel tanks for a 40 day maceration time, which includes a period of cold soak.
Because of the warm climate, the vineyard usually produces wines with high brix (around 16%) and low acid, therefore some acid is added to the must. Marcos explains that malbec takes longer to ripen that other varietals. It will achieve high sugar levels but the seeds are still green, so it needs to hang longer. That’s why the high altitude with the cool nights is very helpful in Salta.
According to Marcos, Michel Rolland prefers to keep the winemaking as natural as possible, so native yeast are allowed to start the fermentation. Because of this, there have been vintages when total maceration time has gone as long as 60 days!
When complete the wine is pressed and then placed back in tank until ML is complete. Next it is transferred to 70-80% new French oak barrels with 24 months of aging, with necessary topping and racking as needed. The wine is not filtered unless necessary.
For the Torrontes, however, they do use commercial yeast– usually VC1 or 3 (French yeast) to enhance aromas of Torrontes. It is fermented at 13 – 20 degrees C in stainless steel, no ML; then fined with Bentonite and filtered before bottling.
Tasting the Wines of San Pedro
After the tour, we were treated to a tasting of 6 wines. We started with two different Torrontes, one unoaked and the other with slight oak. The first was floral and delicate, whereas the second more tropical. Fascinating! Next we tried a rose of Malbec, and then two mablec/cabernet sauvignon blends. My favorite, however, was tasting the flagship San Pedro Yacochuya out of barrel. Composed of 100% malbec, it had a nose of violets and on the palate exploded in blueberries and black current with a velvety long finish. Yum!