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Harvest 2008: Despite Early Rains, Argentine Vintners Are Happy

Malbec benefits from long, cool season

James Molesworth
Posted: May 27, 2008

Argentina's vintners dealt with higher than normal rainfalls and cooler than usual temperatures in 2008.

Following the coldest winter in two generations, with seven recorded snowfalls in Mendoza, vineyards got off to a late start in spring, with budbreak delayed by up to two weeks. Fruit set was slightly lower than normal. February saw steady rainfalls for a nearly two-week period, leading to excessive moisture in the vineyards and some disease pressures. The latter half of the season then turned dry and windy, but stayed cool, allowing vineyards to absorb any excess moisture while ripening slowly.

"After a troubled February, we had an amazing March and April—dry and sunny with very cold nights," said Alberto Antonini, co-owner and winemaker at Altos Las Hormigas and consultant for a number of other Mendoza based wineries, including Bodega Melipal and Bodega Renacer.

A worker collects Malbec from parral-trained vines in Mendoza.

Malbec shone, developing good color, high acidity and fine tannins. A mid-April frost caught some late-ripening Cabernet however, reducing yields for those who hadn't picked yet. "Tannins are softer and rounder, alcohol levels are [normal] in reds," said Daniel Pi, head winemaker at Trapiche, who noted that he lost about 20 percent of his Cabernet crop due to the April frost. Most Mendoza growers likened the vintage to 2005, another long, even growing season that was slightly cooler than either 2003 or 2004.

In the southern Patagonia region, frost also played a role, with a late November cold snap reducing most vineyards by 50 percent or more. After that, however, the remaining crop ripened slowly and evenly under sunny, but windy conditions.

"[This] was a very extreme weather year—lots of wind, zero rain—but excellent because the wind thickened the skins, thus creating massive polyphenols (the aroma and flavor compounds produced in grapes)," said Hans Vinding-Diers, co-owner and winemaker at Bodega Noemía de Patagonia. "The long hang-time gave optimum maturity making the wines big, fat, muscular and still very mineral—typical for Patagonia."

The northern Salta region also saw frosts and cooler temperatures, though the high elevation vineyards were less affected. "Higher blocks were partially toasted," said Randle Johnson, winemaker at Bodega Colomé. "Luckily our old blocks on the overhead parral system were unscathed. The wine quality looks great so far."

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