Argentine Wine: organic and biodynamic

01 December 2020

At the international level people may mistakenly think of Argentine wine as being a modern phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though it only really started to be exported in large volume in the 1990s, its root stretch back to the earliest days of colonization, in the 16th century.

Of course, back in the 1550s when the first vines were planted in the Mendoza region, all wine was organically-produced. But nowadays, for many, Argentine wine is associated with a heavily-industrialized, “modernized” production process. Yet there are small-scale producers here too, working organically and even biodynamically. We present two such winemakers today.

Proviva

The Proviva winery is located in Mendoza Province, in the central-western part of Argentina. It was founded in 2002, during a boom for winemaking across the country. Today it’s one of the few vineyards working both organically and biodynamically, limiting its use of sulfites as far as possible, and trying to allow the grapes to tell the story of this land. But it wasn’t always like this.

Chakana-Proviva-Viticulture-for-the-future
A view of the Andes from Proviva/Chakana winery – Mendoza

“Initially this winery worked in a conventional manner,” Matteo Acmè the current business director, tell us. He started working here in 2016. “In the early years the winery grew, but without asking itself too many questions about the way it was working. After a few years, the owners understood there was something that wasn’t quite right. Something about the methods being used was slowly killing the soil.” Synthetical chemical products, in other words, were impoverishing the grapes of the nutrients they needed from the earth.

A holistic vision

So in 2012 there came a big change: “As well as introducing organic and biodynamic methods, there was a general recognition of how much our choices at the agricultural level impact not just the soil and the environment, but also the people who work on the land. In Argentina the issue of child labor continues to be a problem, and in general the rates of pay are very low, with high levels of disparity between men and women. We believe that working out of respect for the environment and biodiversity also requires a positive ecosystem for the workers.” For this reason, among others, the owners have created a community vegetable garden around a hectare in size, where they workers can grow whatever they want.

Community

“In the last two or three years, perhaps for reasons of fashion, and also because the general level of public awareness has grown, the number of wineries in Argentina who openly declare their interest in these themes has grown. Eight years ago, however, there was no debate around these issues at all.” That’s why, Acmè explains, “it tooks us a long time to gain recognition for the quality of our product. In the first years it was a choice we made for ourselves, according to our beliefs, rather than being for some economic or commercial benefit.”

Today the winery is able to work sustainably, though “it’s certainly not always easy” – thanks to a growing network of people who care about drinking sustainable wine: “Little by little, our way of selling is changing. We don’t just want to see our bottles on supermarket shelves, but to meet interested customers, get to know them, and build a personal rapport. Wine creates conviviality and community, and it’s a powerful messenger that can be cause for wider reflection.”

Canopus

The Canopus winery is situated an hour south of Proviva, in the Uco Valley of Mendoza Province. It was started in 2008 by Gabriel Dvoskin, freshly returned to his native land after 15 years spent abroad. “I had this idea of returning to the roots, to the essence, to nature. At that time there was a Malbec boom worldwide, a trend for robust wines where wooden barrels were protagonists, but the land we had to grow grapes told us quite clearly that we’d have to go against the grain. The soil in El Cepillo has calcareous soils and a cooler temperature that lends itself to more austere and acidic wines, less sweet. We knew that this path was a little outside the comfort zone of the market, but for us it was crucial that our wines reflected this particular locale. Wines that express their natural character.”

Gabriel Dvoskin. Photo: Canopus Vinos

So why choose Mendoza? “It’s a place of immense agricultural wealth, an oasis created by the indigenous peoples of the region who knew how to grow food with almost no rain. All the viticulture here is overshadowed by the high peaks of the Andes—Mendoza contains the tallest mountain outside Asia. The soils here are alluvial, with stones, sand, clay and granite being slowly deposited here, coming down from the mountains over time. But the importance given to soil varies according to the winemaker. With hard work and observation, it can contribute a lot to the wine.”

Biodynamic

So was Canopus a biodynamic business right from the beginning, or did it become one? “We wanted purity from the beginning, so we consulted with Marcos Persia, a specialist in biodynamics, so it arrived before our first harvest. It interests me a lot, but it’s not an end in itself, it’s a set of tools, knowledge and practices that allow us to get closer to our goal: the maximum possible quality. Quality’s a pretty subjective word; what we mean by it is a product which has the character of the place it was made, the real taste, the real, and a story that links it to this land and the people who live and work it.”

Workers at Canopus Vinos. Photo: Canopus Vinos.

And what exactly is Canopus producing these days? “We make 45,000 bottles a year. Two hectares are planted with Pinot Noir, with which we make a red, a rosé and a second red using the grapes from a single, third-hectare parcel. For a few years we’ve also been making a Pét-Nat with grapes bought from a neighbor. We also make three Malbecs: though one comes again from a specific parcel of land and we’re not able to make it every year. We’ve started experimenting with white, too, a Sémillion, again using grapes we buy from neighbors.

Terra Madre

What does it mean for Canopus to be part of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto? “It’s an honor. In an era of information overload we need spaces that dig deep beyond the superficial layers of the discussion around quality and food culture, drink culture. That’s what Salone del Gusto is all about, so it’s important for us to be aligned with this cultural, political and social festival.

Check out the virtual showcase of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto and visit Proviva – Chakana Wines and Canopus Vinos. In the virtual showcase you can find a complete presentation of the producers, and get to know them almost as well as you would in person.

by Marco Gritti and Jack Coulton, info.eventi@slowfood.it