Posts Filed Under overachiever wines
What Is The Job Of The Winemaker Today?
Simple question, right? “Duh! To make wine!” you might be answering to yourself. What could be more simple than that?
But real wine lovers, and real winemakers, know better; they know that almost no other query could be more complicated, opinionated, difficult, thought-provoking, or (hopefully!)invigorating to answer.
Which is exactly what drove me to ask it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after visiting hundreds of winemaking outfits of all sizes all over the world, it’s that no two winemakers ply their craft in exactly the same way, or with exactly the same ends in mind, or exactly the same attitudes. But one thing in that world is consistent: the majority of those same people invariably have passionate stances on both the How and the What of their jobs as winemakers. Theirs are the kinds of viewpoints that make for fascinating reading – and even more fascinating discussion and debate.
I wanted a techy interview, but one with passion, soul, and life . – in the hopes that it would fascinate, entertain, educate and maybe even get your wine blood boiling. To that end, I’ve staked the decks significantly in favor of passionate discussion by posing it to Matt Powell, the force behind Lodi’s Draconis Vineyards. Matt’s wines are focused and powerful – just like his viewpoints. He’s active on social media, is a big fan of comics, and takes his wine very, very seriously; case in point – visitors to the Draconis Vineyards at one point were greeted with the following message:
“I have no lists, clubs, or membership bullshit.”
Matt’s take on the job of the winemaker today? It’s just as straightforward, opinionated, and fascinating as you’d expect form the person who authored that welcome message, and who told me this about a recent vintage: “I tossed the entire 2009’s; weren’t good enough.” A review of one my faves of Matt’s wines follows our interview. Enjoy!…
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“This…. this was all vineyards of Malbec…”
They say the Italian influence runs strong in Argentina, and nowhere does it look stronger than in the face of our driver, Carlos Tizio Mayer – Plump, Roman-nosed and topped with a wavy shock of grey hair, he could be any of a dozen Italian uncles plucked straight from of the memories of my youth growing up in Wilmington’s “Little Italy.” He is driving with one hand, and waving to articulate his words with the other (as they saying goes, if you want to get an Italian to stop talking, hold down his hands). He’s waving towards the South American urban sprawl passing through the view from my passenger-side window.
Even his cadence seems Italian – or, I should say eeeeee-TAL-haaaaahn – deliberate, slow, and almost bearing a sing-song quality. I have plenty of time to consider the nuances, as Carlos is talking nearly non-stop during a two hour pickup truck ride (with me, uncomfortably, in the back “seat”) from downtown Mendoza to the small town of Vista Flores, home to the winemaking properties of Clos de los Siete, and the vineyards which Carlos maintains as their General Manager.
Carlos is holding court with his captive audience during our drive, but I’m only paying half attention. For one, Argentina’s roads aren’t exactly conducive to legible pen-and-paper note-taking; for another, I’m having a hard time keeping my eyes off of the view to our west, where Tupungato, the massive Pleistocene-era statovolcano, is also holding court. Tupungato is a giant among giants, towering over most of its Andean neighbors in a stunning, unmoving testament to the immense pyroclastic forces that, an immense amount of time ago, poleaxed an equally-immense stretch of land between what is now Chile and Argentina.
While I stare out the window waiting for the morning sun to get high enough to change the snow-capped peaks from auburn to bright white, Carlos continues without pause his history lesson of Argentine grapegrowing.
“We had fifty thousand hectares, now, it’s about thirty thousand” he says. The vineyard plantings around Mendoza gave way to sprawl in the 1980s, when local consumer tastes changed. Domestic per capita wine consumption here in the last twenty-five years has decreased from eighty liters a year to “less than thirty. The younger generation is drinking soda… and beer.”…
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Visit Familia Zuccardi, in the Maipú region of Mendoza in Argentina, and any (or all) of three things are likely to happen:
- You get stuffed like a veal calf, mostly on splayed goat, beef, and half-a-dozen different preparations of sausages, all done up Argentine Barbeque style.
- You fall somewhat under the kind-old-uncle spell of Director José Alberto Zuccardi, or are simply worn down by his seemingly endless wellspring of good cheer and all-around positive vibes.
- You realize that there’s good reason why books like Opus Vino call Zuccardi’s “Q” line “the portfolio stand-out.” If you’re not too stuffed on splayed goat and sausage to pay attention, that is.
Also, you might get tested on your Malbec blending skills (more info. on that – and on whether or not I passed – after the jump).
Despite a 2 million case / year production, Zuccardi still lives up to the “Familia” tag, particularly when they’re stuffing you at lunch and educating you on the proper method of sharing Yerba Mate tea Argentina style. And it’s still a family-run outfit: José’s father planted their first vines in 1963, mostly to show off an alternative use for the construction irrigation system he designed, but he “fell in love with winemaking” (funny how that happens), as José explained it to me (José’s been on board since `76, and his children are now involved in various aspects of the business).
Family ties do not a great wine guarantee, however. Defining Zuccardi’s “Q” as a “great” Malbec is, of course, a debatable matter, but after tasting through a not-insubstantial amount of Malbecs during my March jaunt through South America, let’s just say that I’m pretty confident telling you that it’s unlikely the “Q” would be considered anything other than at least “damn good” even by those who find Argentina’s signature dark Malbec wines to be a bit too… brutish for their personal tastes.
To understand what I mean by that, I need to take you behind the scenes at Zuccardi, where I got a crash-course (before the barbeque-stuffing) in whether or not Malbec really can show terroir…
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