Texts by Leonardo Erazo – Winemaker at Altos Las Hormigas
In the wine world some years are remembered way more than others, 2016 in Mendoza will definitely be a much remembered year!!!
This harvest has been defined mainly by the low average temperatures which made it a cool year. This is unusual for Mendoza, which is typically dominated by sunny days, high solar exposure and high temperatures during summer.
On a personal note, I can’t remember a more mind-draining harvest, a constant struggle with the desire of harvesting, while the grapes were ripening in slow motion, at a snail pace never seen before. In years like this to decide the right moment for harvest is more critical than ever, and I have learned the hard way in my five years in Mendoza that there is a golden moment for harvesting when the balance is right, this moment lasts but a brief while and then it’s gone, it’s small time window after which the tannins turn “juicy-sweet”, and the wine loses its tension. Being able to pick at the early stage of ripeness allows to show a different facet of Malbec, a facet that can be found only in a handful of specific parcels, a small area, a brief time, a place and a moment in which a special Mendoza shows itself through Malbec.
The goal of searching for the identity that pierces the variety right through its core, and leaves it with a unique expression. It is the search for the origin, the search for Altamira, the search for Gualtallary, the search for the voice of the Argentinean land, the Andean mountain range and its breeze, the search for geologies formed in ancient eras,
limestone soils from a different world, far removed from us in time, a world that we cannot see but we may eventually reconstruct from what is left behind.
2016, the year of being tense while waiting for the right tension. The tension that brings energy in wine, the tension that makes its backbone stand.
It was a harvest of great learning, while in previous years we learned to free ourselves from preconceptions, from received wisdom and mainstream thinking, in order to get to a the character and the style we were pursuing, this year this was not enough, and we were faced with boundaries our own making.
I believe in freshness, I like acidity, I like the fine-grain tannins; those tannins that overripeness takes away. I like long, ethereal but nervous wines that float, while you drink them, writing their story on the palate. The only way to achieve those wines is harvesting early, in that precise moment, before the sweet and round notes kick in, but I had to wait, and waiting was torture. Uncertainty plays with our mind, we ate our nails, the only escape was to take our thoughts far away from Mendoza, walk a much longer path, longer than I had never done before, even though I have always liked to walk and walk.
It was not only to taste the grapes, walking was needed to take a deeper breath of pure and fresh air, to calm down, restore patience, void the conscience and achieve that state of mind that allows to step outside of the confort zone, advance in humbleness and acknowledge that the true role of the vintner is to observe and follow a dynamic that is often bigger than our knowledge.
The weather pattern of this harvest was something never seen before in Mendoza, and I could not rely on past local experiences, my urge to harvests was pushing me, and I was left with no other guidance than the instinct to listen to the messages from the place, trying to be close to the land and devise its flow. This harvest brought me to pay attention to my guts, and find a very inner voice.
By observing how nature was evolving around me through the season, I was brought to think of the harvests that I have lived in Europe, cherished memories of cooler and wetter regions, and those memories helped bring the guidance I was looking for.
This harvest taught all of us once more to listen, that we can be part of the dynamic of nature, resigning the delusion of bending grapes to our will.
This harvest reminded me that the best choice is to rely on the human side to read the endless change that nature sends to us. We learnt again that as viticulturists and winemakers we must work with nature in order to collect the fruits of our work into a glass of wine.
Removing the mark of the winemaker from the wine does not mean to eliminate him or his work, it is about learning to be a part of a bigger picture, where man has not an overwhelming voice. Man has a crucial role in making wine, but our knowledge is never complete and acting just on our own whim does not acknowledge the true nature of wine and winemaking. This harvest helped us to learn this lesson in a more profound way.
Finally 2016 is a year for those who -like me- appreciate freshness, tension, low alcohol and natural acidity. The ones that appreciate spices and long fine-grain tannins. The ones that appreciate Malbec wines that effortlessly fill tables with empty bottles. For those who appreciate this style, 2016 was a truly fine year.