Bodega Familia Zuccardi, Finca Piedra Infinita.
Drive an hour and a half south of Mendoza and you will come to the Uco Valley, one of Argentina’s key wine producing regions. The dusty roads dotted with bursts of green from irrigated paddocks lie beneath the magnificent Andes mountains, which are our constant companions as we head south. Mother Nature has smiled on us and the famous, or infamous depending on who you talk to, Zonda Wind has blown through the previous evening taking with it the heat of the day and bringing a crisp chill to the otherwise brilliantly sunny day. The Andes Mountains, with their chiselled peaks set against the bright blue sky provide a serene counterpoint to the steady stream of traffic.
The Zuccardi family has been in the wine business since the 1960s with significant development in the business occurring in the 1990s, and more recently with a series of soil investigations to better understand the sites from which the fruit is sourced.
On this occasion we are meeting with vineyard scientist or agronomist, Martín di Stefano at Zuccardi’s Piedra Infinita vineyard and winery. After greeting us with a small collection of maps in his hand, Martín takes us through a brief history of the geology of the area. While highlighting perhaps the most obvious influence in the region, the Andes Mountains, it is important to understand how mountains have contributed a wealth of soil materials throughout millennia. Perhaps most notable are the series of alluvial fans that overlap across the Uco Valley. It is here that deposits from the mountains have come to rest, displaying a stratum of soil comprising sand, scree and rocks. It is these particular layers that offer up the most complexity and typically this type of soil is found in the alluvial fans closet to the mountains, while the higher sand and loam content soils are found closer to the towns of the valley.
Further investigation of the soils in the area has shown that volcanic activity of the past effected a change in the acidity levels of the water coming down from the Andes by increasing the acidity of the water. Higher acidity in the water combined with the limestone of the mountains has resulted in calcium carbonate, or chalk, deposits appearing within the alluvial fans of the valley – but that isn’t all; inside many a rock that appears to be calcium carbonate is also granite and this is where the complexity of the soil in the Uco Valley reveals itself.
A combination of digging hundreds of trenches across the vineyard to investigate the soil profile together with electromagnetic mapping of soil composition has provided the team at Zuccardi with a rich resource from which to make decisions as to irrigation, pruning and harvest dates to name but a few. Stepping inside the new winery is an ideal way to transition from the theory and practical application of the soil analysis in the vineyard to how it is expressed in the final product.
Started in 2009, the new winery at Altamira, Piedra Infinita, adds to the family portfolio of wineries. After several years refining the ethos behind the winery, Mendoza architect Fernando Raganato was engaged to create Piedra Infinita and in 2013 work began. The brief to reflect the role of the Andes and its surrounds is echoed in the sloping walls of the building as they imitate the shape of the mountains, in the garden which is filled with native plants from the area and in the silver dome on top of the winery which shimmers in the Mendoza sun, resonating with the brilliant white of the snow capped mountains.
Inside Piedra Infinita guests are invited to taste, to eat at the restaurant and to tour the winery. On this occasion we tasted a selection of barrel samples from 2016 together with a range of final products from previous vintages. It is the two samples from the Piedra Infinita vineyard, where the winery is situated, that provide a striking example of the complexity of terroir from the area.
The Malbec Super Calcereo and the Malbec Calcareo Arcilloso are produced from sites that are approximately 5 metres apart in the same vineyard. The wines are fermented and matured in concrete tanks and present completely different expressions. The Super Calcereo is a red-fruited wine with spicy pepper notes and a lean structure while the Calcareo Arcilloso is darker in its fruit profile. In the Calcareo Arcilloso the fruit is sweet and black with violet floral notes and liquorice spice – the structure is fuller and heavier on the palate. In these two wines the influence of soil type on the final wine is apparent and taking into account my idyllic surroundings, I immediately understand how agronomist Martín di Stefano includes vista in his definition of terroir – “everything we have we owe to the Andes so when you drink wines from here they need to take you to this place” – and in that statement he has captured the very essence of these wines.
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