Edgardo del Popolo is the head viticulturist for Argentina’s Viña Doña Paula, located in the southern portion of Mendoza. Del Popolo, 43, likes to joke that he came with the furniture when the Claro family (owners of Chile’s Viña Santa Rita) bought the property from the Gancia operation in 1998.
“I was there with all the old machines, so they decided to keep me,” said the soft-spoken del Popolo as we sat down for a chat here in my office earlier this week. Despite his mellow demeanor, del Popolo is passionate about the terroir in Mendoza, an aspect of the country’s wine industry that he agrees has been underutilized so far (for more on that topic, read my column from Dec. 15, 2009).
“The capacity for our terroir is fascinating,” said del Popolo. “But we haven’t showed it to its fullest yet,” referring to Argentina as a whole.
To that end, del Popolo is going against the grain as he develops and fine-tunes the vineyards at Doña Paula’s various estates between the warmer Luján de Cuyo and cooler Uco Valley areas of Mendoza. While most Argentine wineries talk of large diurnal temperature swings (the difference between day-time highs and night-time lows) as a key to ripening grapes in Argentina’s warm, arid climate, del Popolo is looking for cooler spots with narrower diurnal swings.
“We have a spot in Gualtallary with lower heat summation than either Luján to the north or Uco to the south, but with a smaller diurnal swing. What we’re seeing is the grapes ripen more consistently, sooner and without risk to when the weather of the growing season degrades at the end. The wines are also fresher, with more aromas and better acidity, but they still have all the dark blue and purple fruits that Mendoza Malbec is known for,” he said.
Starting with the 2006 vintage, del Popolo began to blend various vineyard sources, including the Gualtallary vineyard, into the winery’s top Malbec Mendoza Selección de Bodega bottling. The result was the best version yet for the wine (I rated it 92 points).
“Using the various components we can get better complexity, adding the acidity and structure of Gualtallary to the softer, fleshier fruit of Luján for example,” said del Popolo of the shift from a single-vineyard wine to one that blends various fruit sources.
The multi-vineyard approach to terroir is basically the opposite approach taken by wineries such as Bodega Catena Zapata, Achával-Ferrer, Viña Cobos and others who bottle numerous wines from single vineyards as a way to showcase terroir and diversity. Neither approach is necessarily better. in fact, both are needed if Argentina’s wineries are going to prove that while relying on a main single variety (Malbec) they can also offer enough diversity.
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