Posted by Santiago Achával
Hola, friends. When I think about when I last posted an Argentina harvest update, "AWOL" comes to mind—only I wasn't "Away Without Leave," I was "Away While Overloaded"! I apologize!
Let me tell you about the past few weeks at Achával-Ferrer: The weather continued on its best behavior, so good that describing it becomes a bit monotonous! I’ll leave it to your imagination with this: I’ve never seen a vintage which gave us fewer reasons to worry about the weather. Period.
We were able to choose exactly the date to pick every vineyard. The only limitation was at times tank space (that moves the conversation back into the "overloaded" category). But as the temps were not too high, those two to four days that some vineyards had to wait until the traffic jam was solved did no damage to the sugar and acid balance. We’ve spent zero on tartaric acid, and added back no water at all.
Now I’d like to give you an impression of what the last two weeks of harvest were. Picture this: Most tanks are full. The crew is bringing in another 10 tons of great Mendoza Malbec. Sorting tables are humming like a well-tuned machine. There are nine pumps working at the same time on pump-over, with six people attending (open-air pump-overs need attention so that they don’t overflow).
But as normal at this stage, two tanks have finished their fermentations. One was emptied of the free-flow wine in the early morning (4 a.m.). One of our more muscled winery hands opens the tank door carefully: We’ve positioned a positive displacement pump under it. Luis will shovel out the skins closest to the door into the pump, to be sent to our pneumatic press. What an aroma comes from within! There’s a fan on top of the tank, because another of our people will go into the tank, dressed in yellow waterproof gear, to help shovel out the last of the skins.
The other tank that has finished fermenting is lso ready to empty, but there’s no tank space available. Crisis? Not really, but these weeks are a juggling act. We have 20 tanks, and we have to keep them all in mind. So I just decide to do an early blend: I taste the tank that's ready to press, and I taste one that is still bubbling on the last days of the fermentation. They are compatible, so we go ahead and empty the free run juice that has finsished fermenting into the bubbling tank. Yes, on the skins for a three-day co-fermentation.
It actually does the wine good! It will start integration among the two wines and will make the blend more complete at an earlier stage. And it doesn’t come earlier than this! It will also help the yeast on the still-working tank to finish the fermentation: At this stage, the yeasts are working in a toxic environment. Not only alcohol, but other (toxic to them, heaven-in-the-nose for us) metabolic byproducts. The already-fermented wine acts like a change of pace—a quick detox. So that yeast will re-energize for the last sprint to dryness.
While we crush the last incoming grapes, and press some tanks that are dry, we’re also putting wine into barrel. It’s the best way to solve the traffic jam. Once a tank’s gross lees settle (almost gelatinous residue of fermentation), we start stacking up barrels in the basement. All the pumps are busy, so we just connect a hose and let the wine fall slowly into the barrels. We allow it to carry all the fine lees. I love the midpalate that on-the-lees aging gives to a wine. We won’t over-do it with bâttonage (stirring of the lees), we’ll just let the wine work on the lees the whole year in barrel.
But of course there’s a problem: We need to raise 2008 Achával-Ferrer Quimera from the barrels. First, because it’s barrel aging is finished, but also to make space for the new wine coming down! And finally, because the new barrels Quimera 2008 has been in for the past 12 months are now one year old, they are just the second-use barrel the 2009 Quimera needs.
You get the picture. It’s like downtown Buenos Aires at rush hour. You haven’t been there? Well, you have to visit us! Can’t do it right now? Imagine not New York—drivers there are civilized compared to the way Buenos Aires people drive. Rather imagine Rome at rush hour.
That was it for the past few weeks. So that’s why I was AWOL. But it’s over. Officially! No more grapes coming in. The last tank was pressed four days ago. Our Quimera blend is final—five varieties and seven vineyards! So is the blend of Mendoza Malbec. Only one variety, but five vineyards to give it a true Mendoza expression. The single-vineyards are in barrel. 2008 Quimera is in tank where it will stay for a couple of months before bottling. The barrels for 2009 Quimera and Mendoza Malbec are stacked and ready to receive the wines.
Three more days of letting gravity work carrying wine to the basement, and it’s winter for us. C’est fini! Ya terminó todo! I look back on the last month and a half with the satisfaction of a job well done. A great harvest, finally over. And human nature being what it is, I’ve started thinking about what to do in the vineyard this winter, to make 2010 the vintage of my lifetime!
Gracias amigos for bearing with me! See you in Mendoza!
Abrazos to all,
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — April 25, 2009 2:46pm ET
Santiago Achaval — April 27, 2009 3:53pm ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — April 27, 2009 6:25pm ET
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