Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Walking Tour of 2 Wineries in Cafayate, Argentina: El Porvenir & El Transito

On the main plaza of Cafayate, Salta
(March 19, 2014) – The next morning we decided to do some shopping on the main plaza in Cafayate, and I found a charming local arts market where I bought a pair of silver earrings with llamas on them. Later I stopped by the small tourist office on the plaza and picked up a winery map. It was then quite easy to see all of the wineries within walking distance of the plaza, and I found that it reminded me a bit of Healdsburg, California where tourists can shop and find great restaurants and wineries all within a few blocks.

El Porvenir – Historic Family Winery in Downtown Cafayate

Our first stop was El Porvenir Winery, which is located in an old cellar from the 1890s with thick adobe walls and old giant oak barrels lined up in the courtyard.  Interestingly these barrels are made from the Algarrobo tree that was originally used to make wine barrels in Argentina, but no longer.  Today they import French and American oak barrels for winemaking.  Our guide pointed out a real Algarrobo tree in the grassy yard near the grape reception area.

Harvest was in full swing when we arrived, and once again we were able to see the malbec grapes sorted before being pumped into stainless steel tanks for fermentation.  We were told they also make tannat, but use large oak foudres to ferment this wine.

After the cellar tour we were escorted to the small tasting room where we had a private tasting with CEO, Lucia, whom I’d met several years ago when she visited SSU as part of the Bordeaux MBA class.  Lucia explained that the winery produces 200,000 bottles, and has 4 farms with about 90 hectares total.

Sorting Malbec Harvest at El Porvenir Winery
All of the wines that Lucia shared with us were excellent, and it was obvious that great care was taken in crafting them. We started with Torrontes in both an unoaked and oaked style. The oaked version (70% new oak) surprised me because it was a bit similar to a chardonnay with big buttery notes from ML and some pineapple.  The other was delicate with floral notes.  Lucia explained that they harvested Torrontes in 3 phases – early to get acidity and citrus, later to get floral, and even later (after malbec harvest) to obtain tropical fruit and more concentration.  Then they blend all 3 for complexity.  These wines, called 2013 Laborum, sell for only $18 in the USA!

Next we tried several reds, and I enjoyed both the malbec and tannat.  The latter had bright fruit flavors with black currant and cherry, and some savory notes with beets and meat.  It was very complex, with dark purple color.  Another unique offering was the Amauta that was a blend of malbec, cab, and syrah with spice and herbal tones.

Lucia told us they employ 48 people.  When we asked about the impact of the economic situation, she said it had been challenging because the cost of everything has increased by 40% including labels, capsules, etc.  However, most Argentine wine producers were afraid to raise prices for the export market, because importers would just switch to Spain or Chile.

She did mention that they are trying to sell in new channels within Argentina, such as retailer wine clubs.  Apparently there is a supermarket in Mendoza called Jumbo that offers a large selection of wine, and has started a retailer wine club that is doing well.

El Transito at 11:30

A few blocks away we found another winery called El Transito.  It is considered to be a boutique, but still manages to produce 250,000 bottles.  It was started in 2007 by Pietro Marini, who was a grandfather at the time, and his picture with long white beard, is on many of the labels.  They own 26 hectares of vineyards, and also buy grapes.

Tasting Room of El Transito Winery
We had a quick tour of the winery here, but no grapes were being processed that day.  We were told that they generally ferment their Torrontes for 15 to 20 days at 18C.

Our tasting consisted of around 5 wines of varying quality levels. My favorite was a 2009 Malbec (70%)/ Cab (30%) blend, which was aged for 6 months in Romanian oak, with a spicy berry nose for only 55 pesos (about $7 US)! The Torrontes was very acidic and grapefruity with a rather fake floral nose, as if they used a strange commercial yeast.  Despite this, I found it refreshing – especially at 35 pesos!

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