Making wine at the end of the world…Bodega del Fin del Mundo

As I ventured further south into the Pampas and beyond of Argentina, it really did begin to feel like the end of the world. The Argentines  have a phrase, “el culo del mundo”  which roughly translates as the “ass of the world” . Once you’ve gone 15 hrs on a bus on a 2 lane highway that never wavers, never swerves, just one long, lone straight line that disappears into the distance, either side of the highway, not a hillock in sight, flat as a pancake, just the land and the sky. It is a lonely feeling. Eventually, you do come upon a major settlement and that would be the capital city of Neuquen, deep in Patagonia. A dusty, low slung city, once you leave the city limits you are back into the desert and then, trees, a (man made) lake, signs of life. This is where Bodega del Fin Del Mundo is, 50 kms outside of Neuquen at a road that ends in vines. The Bodega del Fin del Mundo winery, like most of the wineries in Neuquen is fairly new, having been built within the last 10 years. Lots of stainless steel tanks, state of the art technology and a good size cave, which houses more than 2000 oak barrels, both French and American, give it an up-to-the-minute feel despite it’s lonely location. The winery is technically in the designated grape producing region of San Particio del Chañar, within the Patagonian province of Neuquen. San Patricio del Chañar is very dry (less then 180 ml rainfall annually) and the winery relies on irrigation to water it’s 800 hectares of grapes. Another definitive factor in the grape production is the strong Patagonian winds that blow constantly, causing the grapes to have thick skins which contributes mightly to the colour without the need for much extraction.   BFDM grow a variety of red and white varietals, malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc amongst others. I tasted through their various ranges,...

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More Patagonian winetasting adventures – Bodega NQN

It´s windy in Patagonia. I mean, really windy. The wind never seems to stop. While it´s not very good for my hair, it´s great for the vines. The desert winds of Patagonia sweep the vineyards clear of pests, make for an antiseptic environment, keep humidity to a minimum and gives the berries a thick skin. Neuquen, Patagonia has some of the newest vineyards in the world, most of them in fact were started less then 10 years ago. San Patricio del Chañar is what they´ve christened the newest wine producing region of Argentina and it sits between two desert plateaus, an oasis in the Patagonian desert, none of which could be possible without extensive irrigation. Fortunately, the Rio Negro runs through the desert and it is from this river that the vineyards get their water.   Following a dusty, narrow,  one and half lane road (it seemed like that to me, every time we saw a bus coming our way, I closed my eyes in anticipation of getting hit by it) we finally arrived at Bodega NQN, situated about 50 kms from Neuquen city. An ultra modern winery, it sits on top of a small hill overlooking the vines. Because there is so much space in Argentina, this vineyard covered hectares and hectares of land. They have over a 1000 hectares to work with, only a fraction of it being currently used but there are plans to plant more vines in the future. Lucas Nemesio, the owner of the vineyard was kind enough to sit down with me for lunch, paired with his wines, in the winery restaurant Malma. Over lunch, Lucas explained to me that their philosophy is to keep the character of their Patagonian wines. They don´t want to cater to any particular markets or styles. For this reason, they don´t have a flying winemaker as many Argentine wineries do, but prefer to go it on their own and see what the grapes themselves are capable of producing.  The vines of Patagonia are very...

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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...

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