Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Julia Zuccardi
The Santa Julia line of wines is the main brand of the Familia Zuccardi winery in Mendoza, Argentina. With her 2 brothers – Sebastian and Miquel – Julia makes up the third generation of the Zuccardi family that is about to take over the Familia Zuccardi operation. Julia toured with Sous-Chef Ana Rodriguez Armisén the US East Coast to introduce the new Santa Julia[+] wines as well as new packaging for their Organica and Reserva wines. I was invited to a winemaker luncheon in Virginia.
Wine Country Argentina
Argentina has always been a giant wine producer. But historically, Argentine winemakers were more interested in quantity than quality with the country consuming 90% of the wine it produced. For most of the 1900s, Argentina produced more wine than any other country outside Europe, with the vast majority being consumed domestically. Argentine wines started being exported during the 1990s. it is now the second biggest wine exporter in Latin America, following Chile. The devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002, following the economic collapse, further fueled the wine industry.
Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, following Spain, France, Italy and the US. Like much of the new world, Argentina owes its first vineyards to the Catholic church. As early as 1556, missionary priests crossed the Andes from the Spanish colony in what is now Chile, to Argentina. The wine industry grew rapidly, as the Spanish and Italian immigrants brought with them the habit of having a bottle of wine with every meal. In the 1920s, Argentina was the 8th richest nation in the world. Domestic wine consumption was as high as 90 liters per person. Yet it is only very recently - perhaps over the last ten or fifteen years - that the wine industry has really begun to develop the methods, attitudes and will to become a serious player in the international wine market.
Picture: The Wine Regions of Argentina
The Andes Mountains are the dominant geographical feature of Argentine wine regions, with the snow cap mountains often serving as a back drop view in the vineyards. Most of the wine regions are located within the foothills of the Andes. The most important wine regions of the country are located in the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan and La Rioja. Salta, Catamarca, Río Negro and more recently Southern Buenos Aires are also wine producing regions. The Mendoza province produces more than 60% of the Argentine wine and is the source of an even higher percentage of the total exports.
Due to the high altitude and low humidity of the main wine producing regions, Argentine vineyards rarely face the problems of insects, fungi, molds and other grape diseases that affect vineyards in other countries. This permits cultivating with little or no pesticides, allowing even organic wines to be easily produced. Argentina, like Chile, is unique in the wine world for the absence of the phylloxera threat that has devastated vineyards across the globe. Unlike Chile, the phylloxera louse is present in Argentina but is a particular weak biotype that doesn't survive long in the soil. Because of this most of the vineyards in Argentina are planted on ungrafted rootstock.
There are many different varieties of grapes cultivated in Argentina, reflecting her many immigrant groups. The French brought Malbec, which makes most of Argentina's best known wines. The backbone of the early Argentine wine industry were the high yielding, pink skin grapes Cereza, Criolla Chica and Criolla Grande which still account for nearly 30% of all vines planted in Argentina today.
Mendoza is the leading producer of wine in Argentina. The vineyard acreage in Mendoza alone is slightly less than half of the entire planted acreage in the US and more than the acreage of New Zealand and Australia combined. Located in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua, the average vineyards in Mendoza are planted at altitudes of 1,970-3,610 feet (600-1,100 meters) above sea level. The soil of the region is sandy and alluvial on top of clay substructures and the climate is continental with four distinct seasons that affect the grapevine, including winter dormancy.
Familia Zuccardi – The Story
Familia Zuccardi is a family company founded in 1963 by Engineer Alberto Zuccardi. He set up his own irrigation company in 1950 in Mendoza, experimenting with irrigation methods used in California. To illustrate the working of his irrigation system, he planted in 1963 the first vineyard in Maipù - at that time totally desert area. He did the same ten years later in Santa Rosa, half an hour drive from Mendoza. In both cases, the arid, unfertile soil was transformed into a flourishing vineyard. In 1968, he built a winery and started to make his own wine. He was also instrumental in introducing the Italian pergolas system, in Argentina called ‘parral’, in Argentina, for a better canopy management and fruit ripeness.
Picture: Wines from the Zuccardi Line
In 1976, Alberto’s son Jose Alberto joined the family company. He created the Santa Julia brand in the 1980s, named after Jose Alberto’s only daughter Julia, who I had the pleasure to meet and to have lunch with. I was very pleased to sit and talk to her for a couple of hours. In the 1990s, the Santa Julia line was complemented by the Zuccardi line of wines. While the Santa Julia line is an entry level line, the Zuccardi wines are all quality and premium wines.
Today, 3 generations are active in the company: the founder Alberto Zuccardi, Julia’s father Jose Alberto, and his 3 children: Sebastian is in charge of the estate the family has in the region of Uco Valley. Miquel went for another product than wine and started to make olive oil. I tasted three of his olive oils during the luncheon. Julia is in charge of the tourism sector of the company, including the new visitor center and the restaurant at the winery, where Ana Rodriguez Armisén is the Sous-Chef.
Familia Zuccardi produces 1.000.000 cases annually, of which 60% is exported. The main export market is Canada, followed by the US (100.000) and Brazil. In total, there are 750 hectares of grapes under cultivation: Maipú 170 Ha; Santa Rosa 473 Ha and Uco Valley 107 Ha.
The Zuccardi's grow all their vines under the parral system. The parral system trains the vines overhead into a series of green arches. The parral system and the climate (low rainfall, few pests) in Mendoza lend themselves to organic farming practices. 1/3 of the vineyards are certified organic (by Letis S.A.) 80% of the vines are on ungrafted rootstocks.
Pictures: Julia Zuccardi
Julia also emphasized the social contributions of the Familia Zuccardi winery: “We now have a permanent workforce of over 450 people. Workers at Familia Zuccardi are employed year-round and the winery provides subsidized health care and free education to all its workers.”
The New Santa Julia [+] Line
The new Santa Julia [+] wines comprise Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio, of which we tasted the former two wines. All 4 wines are now presented in a new package that aims at conveying Zuccardi’s “Sustainable By Nature” identity.
Sustainable winemaking is a concept that belongs to the group of "green" winemaking concepts and also include organic, biodynamic and natural winemaking, to name the best known ones. Generally, sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation - as the Santa Julia line of wines does, use of renewable resources and other issues. See more on the different concepts of eco-wines here.
In this context, Julia Zuccardi mentioned that the Santa Julia [+] line is using lighter weight glass bottles to lower CO2 emissions (12,5% lighter). Another aspect of the Zuccardi Sustainability By Nature approach is a water recycling program to minimize the water footprint of wine making. It also includes a commitment to organic farming and social programs for the workforce.
Julia also presented their organic Chardonnay and Cabernet, their Brut Rosé and a couple of their reserve wines. These were all very reasonably priced wines with the suggested retail prices between US$ 10 and 12.
Picture: Wines from the Santa Julia Line
To add a distinctly Argentinean flavor to the event, Ana Rodriguez Armisen presented a demo of Argentintean cuisine. I in particular liked the beef with the easy, authentically Argentinean Chimichurri, a garlic and parsley sauce.
After the presentation of the Santa Julia wines, we had the chance to taste some of the wines of the Zuccardi line. Zuccardi has a number of tiers including: Zuccardi Zeta, Zuccardi Q, Zuccardi Serie A and Textual Zuccardi. The Zuccardi line wines are quality and premium wines.
The Familia Zuccardi wines are famous around the world. Santa Julia offers a more easy to drink, uncomplicated wine. Malbec is the signature red wine of Argentina, originating from Cahors in France. Santa Julia makes a fresh [+] wine ($10), a Santa Julia Organica ($11), which is made from certified organic grapes as well as a Riserva style ($12) that is richer and has benefited from maturation in French oak for 10 months.
There is no doubt, these wines – the Malbec and the other wines we had - were all an incredible value.
Julia Zuccardi and Ana Rodriguez Armisén
Julia Zuccardi grew up in the family wine business. She has worked at the winery since 2008 and currently heads up hospitality programs for the winery’s Casa del Visitante tourism division. She has degrees in English teaching and translation and enjoys her role representing Santa Julia and Zuccardi wines around the world. She told me that she was also an avid dog lover. As I have a German shepard, we had a lot to talk about, in addition to wine and food. I got to know her dog, Bono, a Dogo Argentino (Argentinian Mastiff) quite a bit.
Ana is the Sous-Chef at Santa Julia winery’s Casa del Visitante restaurant in Maipú, Mendoza. She is a native of Buenos Aires and has a culinary degree from Escuela Superior de Hoteleria. She has trained with some of Argentina’s top chefs, including Francis Mallmann.
Picture: Ana Rodriguez Armisén
Food and Wine from Argentina – What we Ate and What we Drank
Julia Brut Rose NV SRP $ 13
100% Pinot Noir, Charmat Method, 10g/l residual sugar:
Zuccardi Olive Oils with fresh baked bread
Santa Julia [+] Torrontes 2010 SRP $ 10
Santa Julia [+] Malbec 2010 SRP $ 10
30% of the Malbec was aged in new and used French oak barrels:
Home made goat ricotta cheese served over Shiacciata l’uva bread with raisins and fresh grapes
Santa Julia Organica Chardonnay 2010 SRP $ 11
Organically grown grapes, vinification in stainless steel tanks:
Beefsteak with crunchy potatoes and chimichurri
Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2009 SRP 12
Santa Julia Reserva Cabinet Sauvignon 2009 SRP 12
Both wines: classic fermentation. Maceration for 15 days. Aged in French oak for 8 months.
Mendocinean puff pastry
Santa Julia Tardio 2009
85% Torrontes and 15% Viognier. The fermentation process was interrupted by a cold shock. Alcohol: 9.5% vol. Residual Sugar: 120 g/l:
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