“Soil rules”, Claude Bourguignon keeps stressing this concept. “We have to look closely at its composition when deciding upon the varietals and rootstock we’re going to work with. And, more importantly, we must work within its limitations: in some areas a simple varietal wine it´s the best we can produce, in others we shouldn’t produce wine at all and, finally, there a few places, Altamira and Gualtallari amongst them, where we can work to obtain great terroir wines”.
That’s what history and experience teach us: in the Middle Ages French monks noticed how red grapes such as Pinot Noir and Aligoté adapted extremely well to the cold climate of the north of Burgundy, whilst white grapes were preforming well in the warmer South. They went against common practices because they understood that to produce great wines, soil is more important than climate. And they got magnificent results.
Last year, on his first visit to Chakana, the French terroir expert was impressed by the similarities of the soil composition he found in Altamira compared with those in the South of France: “Here you have gravel on the surface, a hot climate and a lot of sun throughout the year – the same conditions found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.” Bourguignon explained that taking into account global warming and the desert climate of Mendoza, at Chakana we could experiment with grapes that perform well in these conditions. “Malbec is perfectly adapted here, but what about white grapes? You should try with varietals adapted to drought and poor soils, such as Verdejo, Grenache Blanc or Marsanne”. We have been evaluating these ideas for several years. “You might finally find the great white wine of Argentina”, said Bourguignon.
During Bourguignon’s visit we investigated our vineyards in depth. In the first part of this article we reported what we learnt about Gualtallari and we tried to explain why wines from this area are so dense and structured with powerful tannins.
Our Ayni vineyard offers an excellent opportunity to observe the consequences of the alluvial cone of the ancient Tunuyan River, formed by a number of smaller estuaries. Today, we find gravels covered by a layer of calcium carbonate at the sides of the old riverbed and a deeper sand/silty soil in the middle. White stones in Altamira are much bigger than in Gualtallari. When we planted the vineyards we filled many trucks with enormous rocks and most of them were granite with less basalt. The result is a less calcareous soil than in Gualtallari. Altamira lacks iron components as well. All these characteristics have a strong influence on wine as we can see in our Ayni or Estate Selection Malbec, which are fresh, elegant wines with crisp fruit and herbal notes.
Shades of red
With his analytical technique, Bourguignon proved that Altamira’s soil lacks iron compared to Gualtallari. “Iron is crucial for the photosynthesis of anthocyans – compounds of the grape’s skin responsible for the wine’s color. Less iron means less anthocyans and a paler, lighter final color”. This could be a good explanation for the difference between the dark red of Gualtallari’s Malbec and the softer shades of Altamira’s.
Power and Elegance
An abundance of stones covered by calcium carbonate is a common characteristic of both terroirs. This, together with a sandy soil poor in clay, pushes vine roots to explore the deeper soil to find nutrients.
Where we have a higher percentage of basalt, as in Gualtallari, there is a higher extraction of calcium carbonate, which produces more powerful and structured wines. On the other hand, in Altamira less extraction gives a clear calcareous identity to the wine with more freshness and elegance.
Comparing the unique characteristics of these two terroirs has great importance for us. But a day with Lydia and Claude Bourguignon highlighted that perhaps the most interesting thing to do is to investigate what Altamira and Gualtallari have in common – a huge and still unexplored potential for producing great terroir wines.