When it comes to winemaking in Argentina the story is often one sided; full-bodied Malbecs from high elevation, warm climate vineyard sites. To the credit of the producers, over the past two decades these are the wines lauded by critics and the market buys them up. However, far to the south of Mendoza, in the region of Patagonia, one can find a very different movement taking shape. Argentina’s southern provinces are characterized by cooler temperatures and vineyards planted at much lower altitudes. This allows the producers to craft wines that are very different from those from Mendoza. This month, we will look at two great examples, from the same winery, that show a more elegant side of the wines of Argentina.
Wapisa is a new project, as of the 2017 vintage, owned by Patricia Ortiz, a nephrologist with a passion for wine. She is well known for her other wineries in Mendoza, Tapiz and Zolo, where she has racked up big scores for her powerful reds. She came to Patagonia to craft wines in this cooler climate and show the effects of this utterly unique terroir. Unlike many others who have begun wine projects in Patagonia in the regions interior, Patricia is the only one to have planted her vineyards close to the coast. In fact, Wapisa means “whale” in the indigenous Yamanas language of the people of Tierre del Fuego, and she chose the name because they often swim offshore of her vines.
There are distinct advantages to producing wine in coastal Patagonia, including limestone soils, cool maritime breezes, and sunshine without the intense heat of the inland provinces. The mouth of the Rio Negro River provides plenty of water, an essential resource that can be scarce in many Argentina growing regions. In addition, the cool, dry climate prevents problems such as over-ripeness and fungal disease, which reduces the need for chemical intervention in the winery. The entire operation is designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and under Patricia’s guidance has become an important member of several maritime conservation initiatives.
As far as viticulture is concerned, the winery’s technical consultant is none other than the legendary Jean-Claude Berrouet, who spent 4 decades as the head winemaker for Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, and guided Napa’s Dominus Estate onto the market, producing the first 20 vintages of their Bordeaux-style blend starting in 1983. Though officially retired from winemaking, Jean-Claude still consults for a number of wineries in the New World which produce Bordeaux varieties, and his lower-intervention style meshes well with that of head winemaker Fabian Valenzuela. Together, the two have been dedicated to producing Bordeaux-style wines in Patagonia since 2017.Download Full Club Write-up