Wow. A couple weeks have blown by faster than I could have ever imagined. When I set out to write this blog, my idea was to pair everything down so I could write short snippets while continuing to work the almost certain long days of harvest in Patagonia. What I did not anticipate was that this year, the 2017 harvest, would be the warmest season in the last 44 years, therefore rocketing the grape picking and in turn the working hours of a harvest intern, into what I would call “beast-mode.”
To give a small reference point, Bodega Chacra produces around 175 ton of grapes per year, about 1.75 times the size of Carhartt. In a normal harvest back home, we pick our grapes over the course of 2-3 months. Something to keep in mind is that we also make 20 different wines, ranging from the early ripening Pinot Noir, to later ripening Merlot. Here at Chacra, we only grow and produce Pinot Noir, so when it’s ready, there is no choice but to buckle down and get the fruit picked. Since my first day of work about two weeks ago, we have been running an average 13+ hour day. In the world of harvest that isn’t necessarily abnormal, but pair it with the fact that in Argentina, like most of Europe, the culture eats later, and so by the time we cook dinner and get to bed, its already past midnight. Hence, that didn’t really leave me a lot of time to look through my pictures of the day, and write about what was happening at the time.
This post will then tally the activity of the last couple of weeks, so I can play catch-up, and get back on track!
Upon arrival, we (the interns) were greeted with a bbq of meat and some awesome wines! This bbq area and pizza oven is right outside of our casita.
The next morning, we started work so I took a photo of the beautiful scene in our backyard.
From day one it was all about sorting fruit (processing it) and getting it into tank to begin fermentation. The winery is set up with three sizes of cement tanks that all sort of connect to each other so you have two levels to walk – the winery floor and above the tanks. At Chacra they believe in fermenting in cement and that for their style it brings forward the best quality wine. The winery floor isn’t necessarily huge, so we have to get creative when sorting fruit. Some is processed as whole cluster (with stem) and some is de-stemmed. It goes from a sorting table to a giraffe (a conveyor belt that brings the fruit from the winery floor into a tank of our choice). If we de-stem, it has to go from a sorting table to a small giraffe, into a de-stemmer, then into a larger giraffe that puts the grapes into tank.
Once in tank the grapes are allowed to ferment by native yeast (no addition of a specific strain). Fermentation here is definitely different than any winery I have ever been to in that they treat their grapes and fermentation more like a tea bag infusion. The idea being to not aggressively extract tannin, structure, color, and aromatics from the wines through a series of cap management techniques like punch downs and long pump-overs, but more to delicately infuse the juice with soft tannin, soft aromatics, and finessed structure through cooler ferments, and non-macerating techniques.
We accomplish this by keeping the cap (top section of the ferment) constantly wet with a series of short pump-overs, usually accompanied by a cooling of the juice/wine to keep the temperature in check. As fermentation progresses, especially in the whole cluster lots, we will do a very delicate foot-stomp on the top of the cap to break open some berries and produce some liquid, but not macerate the skins and extract harsh compounds. It has been very eye opening for me and really interesting to utilize new techniques and see the incredible outcomes!
On a non-winery level, one thing I think is amazing about this place is its landscape. I’ve been told that the colonization of this area is only about 100 years old, so it is free of most diseases or problems that we often see in vineyards all over Europe and the U.S. This is basically a massive desert with a thin stretch of civilization down the middle, right next to the river. As you can see from the photos below I took from the plane, the green sliver is the cultivation of man, while on both sides are vast desert lands.
Along with this big sky country (no mountains) also comes quite amazing natural beauty. The sunrises, sunsets, and cloudscapes that I have seen here are some of the most amazing of my life. As Piero, the owner and head winemaker would say, “you don’t need a filter on your phone to capture the beauty here.” Below are some photos I snapped over the last few weeks.
Yesterday, Sunday, we finally got an afternoon off, and were invited to have lunch at Piero’s house next to the winery. It was created by two bothers who own and operate a restaurant in Neuquen, a city an hour away from us, called Toscana. It was delicious! We even got to go in the pool!