photo of La Consulta Vineyard from familiazuccardi.com
Terroir: Europe vs the Americas
Wine-growing Euro-purists scoff at irrigation as a shortcut around organic ways to produce moisture. There’s a spectrum of stances: at the extreme end, it’s “If it won’t grow on its own, it shouldn’t be growing at all”. The middle position acknowledges irrigation as necessary to produce some great wine but doesn’t help define the terroir.
Sebastian Zuccardi of Familia Zuccardi in Argentina is on the far other end, holding that done right, irrigation can help express terroir. Sebastian is the third-generation wine-biz’ Zuccardi who manages the vineyards and heads research and development. His grandfather was an irrigation system developer who ended up influencing the Argentina wine industry in ways he would never have imagined.
He may be winning the argument, because Zuccardi was recently named the World’s Best Vineyard.
Sebastian categorizes Mendoza wines in general as Mountain Wines. Mendoza Mountain terroir includes the soil, as usual, but also a unique tension between high light intensity and cooler temperatures from the altitude. Finally, the climate factors in big: it’s a semi-dessert that needs that irrigation.
Compared with Mollydooker’s timed stress approach in Australia, Zuccardi opts for long soaks with equally long droughts, which causes the water to penetrate deep and the roots to chase it. The results are consistent with their respective wine styles. Mollydooker goes for super-ripe fruit expression from ultra-concentrated berries, while Zuccardi works for structure, complexity and expression of place.
Tasting: thirteen wines, four vineyards, three varieties
To glean how site affects the variety and how varied the wines could be within a small area, at a Calgary tasting we contrasted Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bonarda from four different vineyards and blocks within those vineyards.
We found great differences among the Malbecs from:
- La Consulta—blue fruit with a little grip
- Vista Flores—jasmine, cinnamon and sandalwood, more verve
- Gualtallary—vegetal and marine aromas with bursting acidity
- Altamira—sweet vanilla and smoke aromas, with soft tannin and unusual acidity.
We also found similarities between different varieties in La Consulta and Gualtallary.
Down the rabbit hole
Sebastian uses experimental controls to make the wine consistently across all blocks to minimize human interpretations and let the site and variety express purely. He uses concrete egg fermenters instead of flavour-imparting oak barrels on his mission to identify as many specific sites within vineyards as possible. But how specific do you go, and more to the point, how do you define a ‘site’? Can you go down as small as the area you need to produce the volume to fill a single egg? Where does it end?