Club Caravan uses two essential elements of winemaking to determine bottle selection: the influence of the land and the influence of the maker. With these elements as our anchor, wine can become not only a tasty beverage, but a vessel for travel, storytelling, and mystery.
This does not happen often in Club Caravan, but this month’s selections focus on one country in particular: Argentina. Not only that, but both wines come from the same valley: Uco Valley of Mendoza. Mendoza is Argentina’s largest wine region and sits on a high plateau near the Andes mountains accounting for about 70% of Argentina’s total wine production. While most of the region is flat, as we head towards the western edge, we begin to enter the foothills of the Andes mountains, bringing some vineyards to 4,000ft and beyond. All the ripening from warm & sunny days is tempered by cool evening breezes coming down from the mountains. This helps to guarantee long ripening times and balanced acidity in the grapes.
Spinners at the End of the World, National Geographic
BEFORE THE VINES WERE PLANTED…
Indigenous communities were found to be populating what we now know as Argentina as early as 11,000 BCE. (For reference, the earliest evidence of winemaking was found in Georgia around 9,000 BCE). These communities consisted of many different tribes; some being nomadic hunting and fishing groups such as the Chaco, the Tehuelche of Patagonia, and the Querandí and Puelche (Guennakin) of the Pampas. There were others that were primarily stationary agricultural, like the Diaguitas, of the Northwest. The Incas, who are a name we are more familiar with, also held territory in the Northwest. And the feared warrior tribe located at the bottom of Patagonia, the Mapuche Indians, were the only tribe never conquered by the Spanish.
The story of Argentina’s indigenous peoples is one all too familiar to us North Americans. During the middle of the 16th century, when European countries played games of conquering distant lands and peoples, Spain was covering South America and moved toward colonizing Argentina as a means to stop Portugal’s expansion of Brazil. Because the land was made up of so many individual tribes, there was no unified force to stop the Spanish settlement. Not much is known about the lives of these tribes, as Spanish settlers did not do much to document indigenous customs, and most indigenous peoples were forced to adopt the customs/ religions/ traditions introduced by the Spanish. There are customs that continue to be passed down through indigenous communities such as the hilanderas del fin de mundo, or “spinners at the end of the world,” who spin, stain, and weave local sheep’s wool in the Tierra del Fuego region. Many tribes such as the Mapuches are still fighting hard for restitution, and are some of the fiercest environmental activists out there.
The most recent census in 2010 showed that 955,032 self-identified as belonging to or descending from 35 different indigenous peoples’ groups.
As important as it is to have such outstanding wine being produced in Argentina, it is impossible to speak of these achievements without acknowledging its existence as a result of European colonization. Please note the list of Argentinian indigenous tribes below:
Charrúa, Lule, Mbya-Guaraní, Mocoví, Pilagá, Toba, Tonocoté, Vilela, Wichí.
Atacama, Avá-Guaraní, Chané, Chorote, Chulupí, Diaguita-Calchaquí, Kolla, Ocloya, Omaguaca, Tapiete, Toba, Tupí-Guaraní, Wichí.
Mapuche, Ona, Tehuelche, Yamana.
Atacama, Avá Guaraní, Diaguita-Calchaquí, Huarpe, Kolla, Mapuche, Rankulche, Toba, Tupí Guaraní, Comechingon.
The National Flower of Argentina, Ceibo
In the year 1556, Father Juan Cedrón established the first vineyard in Argentina with cuttings from the Chilean Central Valley in what is now the Mendoza and San Juan wine region. Thus began winemaking in Argentina, and specifically, the region where these two bottles were made. Let’s see what else was happening in the world while these cuttings were first planted
The first printing press in India was introduced by Jesuits, at Saint Paul's College, Goa.
French peasant Martin Guerre left his wife and children several years earlier, in this year, a false Martin Guerre appeared in the French village Artigat claiming to return to his family. A scandal of imposture ensued!
Shaanxi Earthquake kills 830,000 in Shaanxi Province, China and is the deadliest earthquake ever recorded
Michaelangelo is working on St. Peters Basilica
Holy Roman Empire: Charles V was the ruled from the low regions of Germany to the Ottoman Empire, including Spain and Italy, and extending to South America
France: King Henry II
England and Ireland: Queen Mary I burns Protestant leaders at the stake such as Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury during her father Henry VIII’s reign. Thomas Cranmer had helped annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon.
Spain: King Phillip II, at the height of Spain’s influence referred to ask their Golden Age
Ottoman Empire: Suleiman the Magnificent, known as The Lawgiver for his efforts to reform the Ottoman system of laws.
Russia: Ivan the Terrible (the first Moscow ruler to declare himself the Tsar of Russia), conquers Astrakhan, the largest city in Southern Russia, opening the Volga River to Russian traffic and trade
SuperUco Calcareo, Granito de Gualtallary Malbec 2018
Argentina, Mendoza, Uco Valley, Gualtallary
Colonia Las Liebres, Brut Rose 2018
Argentina, Mendoza, Uco Valley, El Peral
The history of planting grapevines for winemaking goes back to the 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish, who brought over Moscatel and Criolla (aka Listan Prieto in Spain). Over the next few hundred years more varieties were introduced (such as Malbec, Cabernet, Merlot, Bonarda, Chardonnay), but it wasn’t until the 1980s & 90s that Argentinian wine had a significant impact on the world wine scene. This was due to economic changes, advances in technology and outside investment in various regions of Argentina. The U.S. is the top consumer of Argentine wines outside of Argentina themselves. Overall, Argentina’s production is 5% of the world’s total wine output at 8.4 million hectolitres (just for a sense of scale: Italy produces 17% and the U.S. produces 9%.).
Both wines in this month’s Club Caravan come from the Uco Valley subregion of Mendoza in Argentina. Within the Uco Valley (which is about 45 miles long and 15 miles wide) there are numerous wine growing districts. Both wines featured come from the neighboring districts of Gualtallary and El Peral. Both sit at around 4500 feet elevation. The vineyards for the SuperUco Calcareo wine sits atop chalk and granite soils, while the Colonia Las Liebres vines are on limestone.
The SuperUco Calcareo, Granito de Gualtallary is hand-harvested and comes from a single 9 acre vineyard. The grapes are crushed and then macerated for 30 days in a 3000 litre amphora. It is then moved to used French Oak barrels where it rests for 14 months before bottling. The wine is unfiltered and unfined. Made by the Michelini Brothers who built their biodynamic/organic winery SuperUco in 2012.
It is somewhat rare to see high quality sparkling wine such as this expression from Colonia Las Liebres, Brut Rosé. It is even rarer to see a bottling of single varietal Bonarda made as sparkling wine. That said, we are glad this was made. Bonarda is one of Argentina's most planted varieties and tends to create wines with low tannins and high acidity, giving generous notes of fresh dark fruit. But Bonarda is also complex and upon further swirling can reveal notes of violets and allspice. This bottle was made in the Traditional Method fashion, with the secondary fermentation taking place within the bottle (just like Champagne, Vouvray, and other top-quality sparkling wines).
MICHEL AIME POUGET & THE ARRIVAL OF GRAPES THAT PUT ARGENTINA ON THE WINE MAP
Even though grapes were grown and wine was made throughout Argentina, it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that an actual wine industry began to take shape. In the 1840s, Chile had sought to develop its various regions and work with more traditional varieties found in Europe. To do this, they brought over French ampelographers Michel Aime Pouget, Rene Lefebvre and Claudio Gay. They worked at the Quinta Normal de Santiago, an experimental research and agronomy center. While there, Michel encountered Argentinian intellectual Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who was in political exile at the time.
Domingo was curious and excited about the work he saw being done by Michel and encouraged his compatriots back in Argentina to bring Michel there to work. Mendoza’s governor invited Michel to start the Quinta Normal de Mendoza. On April 17th of 1853 the local government gave the official approval for the new school with Michel as principal. It was here that Michel experimented with Malbec and other varieties, helping to put Mendoza and Argentina on the map of quality wine regions.
Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history. All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring. We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop