Familia Schroeder – more pinot, this time in Patagonia
When I was in Mendoza last month I tried some rather big and brawny pinot noirs. I wondered aloud on twitter if these were the only kinds of pinots to be had in Argentina. Lo and behold, Twitter spoke and before I knew it, I was on a bus to Patagonia, heading for the vineyards of the province of Neuquen in Patagonia to see what kind of pinots they are producing.
The Argentine winery Familia Schroeder have planted 120 hectares and grow pinot noir along with the usual suspects of malbec, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. First, a bit of history behind the vineyards of Neuquen. Back in the early 2000´s the state government of Neuquen realized that the natural oil and gas that was the bedrock of it´s economy was going to sooner or later dry out. What to do? They decided they needed a long term investment plan and settled on giving money and tax breaks to anyone who would plant a vineyard in the area and make wine. The area surrounding Neuquen consists of high desert plataeus with a narrow valley running between two that has been irrigated for years. The primary crops grown are cherries and strawberries, people knew that crops would grow in the soil. The not so hard part was to get winemakers to venture south. Many winemakers from Mendoza came down as the climate is similar, desert land with very little rain, lots of sunshine, quite a large thermic amplitude and very few pests. The added ingredient being the Patagonian winds that seem to blow almost constantly and causes the berries of the vine to have thicker skins then their Mendocino kin. How much of an effect on the wines this would have, remained to be seen. The new wine producing region has been christened San Patricio de Chañar and is where almost all the vineyards of Patagonia can be found.
While I was there, one entire day was given over to a dust storm, producing a brown haze and rather poor visibility. They say it´s good for the vines, the winds and the extremely low humidity making the area almost antiseptic with very little chance of mildews or botrytis forming. As I mentioned earlier, the winds cause the grapes to produce thicker skins which tends give more intensely coloured but not opaque wines. I could still see through to the bottom of my glass, even the malbecs were not as deeply coloured as their Mendoza counterparts.
The winery is built on top of a small plateau and is gravity controlled going down 5 levels into the hillside. The grapes come in at the top and end up in the cellar in the basement. A very impressive new structure, on the lower levels they have a nice space for concerts and art exhibitions. While I was there they had a jaz evening amongst the barrels, lots of fun. As an interesting side note, the winery´s symbol and two of it´s lines (the Saurus line) are named after dinosaurs because while they were building the winery, they dug up the bones of an actual dinosaur as well as dinosaur eggs. There is a special cellar set aside where you can view the bones as well as replicas of the eggs. But anyway, back to the wine….
Schroeder uses oak liberally in their wine making and all of their red wines spend time in French and/or American oak barriques. Federico Moreira, their junior winemaker who was tasting with me, explained the winery wants their signature to have wines of suppleness and finely balanced oak and fruit. They are currently developing all of their pinot noirs in slightly different styles, bringing out different dimensions of the same varietal. The Saurus Patagonia select 2007 Pinot Noir is their entry level, 40% spends 12 months in oak, 60% in stainless steel to keep the fruit, it was full of juicy red fruit, lot so floral aromas and some cocoa and vanilla to round it out. Very easy to drink.
Their Familia Schroeder 2007 pinot noir spends 18 months in oak, giving a wine with nice structure, fine sweet tannins and spicy black fruit notes. Thankfully, the oak was not overpowering. A more complex wine then the previous one, with chocolate flavours boucing around and of course excellent acidity. This fine acidity is a hallmark of Patagonian wines. All the winemakers I spoke to while in Patagonia said it is innate to the wine produced there and there is no need to add acid compounds to the wine despite the high heat of the summer months.
The last pìnot I tried was the Saurus barrel fermented 2008 pinot noir. Sweet nose, vanilla, cocoa, red fruits abound. A pleasingly smooth, velvety wine, ripe red fruits, mocoa, cola and toast on the finish with that welcome acidity flowing into my mouth. A deep garnet colour, the wine had heft but it wasn´t over done as I´d found the Mendozan pinots, there was a bit of subtlty about the wine. A wine to enjoy, I think we took this one to lunch with us after the tasting. Schroeder has a lovely restaurant overlooking the vines and we enjoyed a very delicious meal of contemporary Argentine cuisine.
Schroeder also make some lovely malbecs, merlots and cabernets but I was there for the pinots. The verdict? Inifinitely prefer the subtler pinots from the Patagonian dessert, much more to my palate although they are nothing like French Burgundy, more like a cross of Old World red fruit notes and acidity and New World depth and intensity.
I had a few more wineries to visit, I´ll let you know how their pinots stacked up….