22 Dec 2011

Did someone say isolated? (Salta, Argentina – Day One)

I tossed around a couple of ideas for the name of this entry; Cafayate to Colome Rally; On top of the world, looking down on creation; Extreme altitude; High society; There and back again. Really any of them could apply to the adventures of the day. After arriving quite late into Cafayate the previous night and getting a good night sleep, I was keen to get to Colome on time. Little did I know that getting to the Colome winery is possibly one of the most laborious and treacherous I have ever experienced. Now in my days as a wine professional I’ve driven on unsealed roads to get to wineries plenty of time. Mostly they are the driveway or a side road off the highway, but nothing like this. The National Route 40 for a good 75km from Cafayate to Molinos and beyond is like outback Australia, also because of the scenery. This is not the kind of setting you expect to find a winery, let alone vineyards. Significantly drier and warmer during the day than Mendoza, the altitude of the Salta region alone makes this a cooler climate, as the daylight hours are shorter and the nights are colder.

The Colome winery dates back to 1831 when the last Spanish Governor of Salta planted Bordeaux varieties and established a winery, making it the oldest winery in Argentina. The vineyards here are therefore pre-phylloxera cuttings that are up to 180 years old, possibly the oldest in the world? The winery was re-established in 1998 by Swiss legends, Donald and Ursula Hess, who own wine businesses on four (new-world) continents. Newer vineyards have since been planted to expand the business, and through much better understanding of micro-climates they have planted the highest vineyard in the world, at 3111 metres above sea level. This makes the Colome vineyard seem paltry at 2300m, but still a good 1000m above the highest in Australia. The vineyards are biodynamically and organically farmed, which they take seriously by having signs at the entry to the property asking visitors not to interfere with the environment. The Hess Family are proud of their commitment to the local community and their staff, who are integral to the success of the business. There is also a hotel on the estate that uses organic produce grown on the property to prepare fantastic meals.

The winemaking philosophy is fairly simple, just don't get in the way of the expression of vineyard and varietal. To this end the winemaker Thibault Delmotte ferments in stainless steel vats and tries to use minimal new oak, retaining the freshness and vibrancy. Having access to four vineyards at an altitude range of 1500m means he has lot's of options for blending. Tasting through a number of varieties all grown at different altitudes is fascinating when you consider how the blend will come together. For example Thibault uses tannat that has high natural acidity instead of adding any tartaric or citric acids. In the tasting room I also tried some of the single vineyard wines that I mentioned earlier, and the standout was definitely the Syrah 2010, which had a really interesting shell fish character to it that I've only ever seen in sauvignon blanc from coastal regions.

Click here to see more photos from Salta Day One

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