The Traveling Somm harvesting in Mendoza
Updated: May 30, 2020
It was a bumpy truck ride to Vista Flores when I made my way to the winery at sunrise. With a passion for wine and nature I couldn’t wait to deepen my knowledge about the winemaking process and to get my hands dirty making wine.
Out of the windshield I glanced at the Andes mountains with their snow-covered tips and thought to myself how marvelous, that’s the source of the crisp glacier water responsible for all irrigation of this renowned wine region and how privileged the plants are. What to expect from a place called Vistaflores ‘view on the flowers’ in the heart of the famous Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina?
As I turned into the vineyard I was amazed at how green everything was and that the grapes were in full bloom. Driving through the sandy terrain, passing by the juicy grape clusters on the vines I arrived at the winery where my journey as a winemaker would begin a new chapter.
I entered the winery where I came across several steel tanks, and cement amphores that were filled with fermenting grape juice. The advantage of the cement vessels is the fact that the must undergoes a micro-oxygenation because of the pores which results in a softening of the wine and the shape guarantees a constant flow of the liquid which I thought was pretty awesome.
I tried the wines directly from the tanks, some tasted really sweet and others more acidic. The process of tasting the wines twice a day and measuring the sugar levels also called Brix determines how far along the wine is. The wines I tasted seduced my tongue with their intense red berry flavors and left my lips and tongue in a purple color.
Now it was my turn to show some muscle so I climbed on top of one of the amphores and with a lot of love and care I did pump-overs to extract maximum aromas and colors from the grapes – crucial in winemaking as the color, aromas and tannins are extracted from the skins.
By the time I finished the so-called ‘remontage’ it was already noon and the sun stood high in the sky in this dry desert climate. Mendoza has over 300 sunny days a year and I felt my hair becoming more golden and my face starting to freckle as the intense sun burnt down.
My stomach was growling and it was finally time for lunch with the workers in the vineyard. I listened to them chat as I munched away on a nourishing sandwich while enjoying the spectacular view. In the distance, I could see the horses, cows and llamas spread around the pastures. I had to take off my jacket as now it was really hot, unlike in the morning when it was quite chilly. Due to this wide temperature range and the fact that Vista Flores is at an altitude of 1100 m. a. s. l. the grapes are full of flavors, tannins and polyphenols which end up in a bottle of wine to be enjoyed at the highest expression of this unique terroir.
After the last bite of my farmer’s lunch, it was already a bit cloudy and my arms felt heavy from the work in the winery but my heart was jumping and I took in the beautiful panorama, pumping my lungs full of fresh air. After a digestive walk through the vineyard I inspected the harvesters that were filling up their buckets with ripe Pinot Noir grapes with impressive velocity. I put on some gloves and started to help them, carefully cutting the grape clusters from the vines and placing them in a bucket. It took me a while but once my task was completed a farmer named Miguel helped me to put the full bucket, weighing 20 kilos, on my bony shoulder and with just a little more effort than the hard-boiled harvesters, I made my way to the truck and put my grapes with the others. A sense of pride and accomplishment came over me as I hopped on the back of the truck to drive the grapes to the winery.
Arriving at the grape crusher, my jeans and Guns and Roses T-Shirt were full of mud and grape juice. Now it was time to select grapes and to choose the best quality clusters, separating them from any leaves or unwanted branches that then make their way into the tanks to start the fermentation process where sugar is turned into alcohol by the action of the yeast.
One tank was ready to be emptied to separate the solids from the liquids and extract all the juice from the skins with a wooden antique press that was used back in the day. This thick juice that is obtained with a lot of strength and the physical principle of the turning moment is highly concentrated and later used for blending.
After completing my tasks, with a glass of wine in my hand, I looked at the magnificent landscape as the sun started to set and realized that I have been making wine all day. A wonderful feeling came over me and I started to grasp how much hard work is involved in enjoying a delicious bottle of wine at the end of a day.