Its name triggers images of vast and desolate extensions of land in Southern Argentina, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean–endless beaches and exotic animals- and by mountains and idyllic lakes on the west. It is not difficult to imagine why the first European adventurers arrived and decided to remain there. It is also easy to understand how much its population has expanded in the last decade thanks to immigrants in search of new beginnings. Winemaking has also found a new place to create wines that have gained international acclaim during the past decade.
Nestled in oasis located in Patagonia’s most northern area and benefiting from outstanding climatic conditions, high-end winemaking has developed in recent years. One hundred years ago, Río Negro pioneered in this activity and ten years ago, other valleys in Neuquén, La Pampa and Chubut joined in.
These winemaking valleys are located in one of the country’s richest water supply; rivers there are wider and mightier than those that irrigate the other oasis in different regions of the country. Rivers Limay, Neuquén and Negro are responsible for modern urban settlements, the energy that reaches the main populated centers in the country and wonderful places that attract worldwide tourism.
International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay have adapted splendidly to these regions. Nevertheless, Malbec has been the most appealing for new investors and the most celebrated by consumers. Nowadays, Pinot Noir is making noise and international critics have acknowledged this varietal’s elegance.
In the province of Neuquén the average altitude ranges between 250 and 300 masl and its average annual precipitations is 220 mm. The climate is warm, with cold nights and intense droughts. The average temperature is 15°C and thermal amplitude can reach up to 15 or 16 °C in the grape’s maturation period. Predominant winds are very strong and flow in direction West-Southeast. They cause a bigger impact during spring and summer. Winds are beneficial for the vineyard’s sanity due to the fact that they mitigate cryptogamic diseases. Another outstanding climate feature is the average level of sunlight exposure.
Río Negro’s climate is mild and continental, with wide thermal amplitude. The average altitude is 240 masl in Río Negro and annual precipitations vary between 200 and 300 masl. Summers are long and allow for the vines to grow steadily. Crytogamic diseases have little effect on this area. In addition, there are low risks of freezes and hailstone.
Vineyards and wines
Patagonia’s cultivated surface in 2012, 3582 ha is 31% larger than that in 2001, which clearly conveys this region’s charm. Vineyards have grown in Neuquén while Río Negro they have decreased. This region’s climate is favorable for red varieties, especially for Pinot Noir. White varieties are the ones who have been eradicated from Río Negro, mostly Pedro Giménez. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have expanded.
The combination between latitude and altitude defines the existence of thermal amplitude in Argentina. Particularly in Patagonia wide thermal amplitude can be reached in low altitudes. The wines owe their intense color to strong winds from Patagonia; they cause grapes to develop a thicker skin. Since the coloring matter is found in the skin, having a thicker one means more anthocyanin in grapes. This gives them more concentration of color. Lastly, Patagonia’s small population (which translates into low pollution levels), along with scarce rainfall, strong winds and low freeze risk, are beneficial for the vineyard’s sanity.
Pinot Noir is a red variety that grows mainly in cool regions and can be found in the most noteworthy sparklings around the world. It develops wonderfully in Patagonia, creating elegant, light wines with a striking palate, tannic structure and notable acidity.
Merlot, a very distinguished variety around the world, is one of the grapes that has best adapted to the region’s climatic conditions throughout history. This is mainly due to its resistance to cold winters, its constant production and early maturation. It stands out because it creates smooth wines that are perfectly balanced and have aromatic intensity.
Cabernet Sauvignon holds a long tradition in Argentina; it has been cultivated since the XIX century. The modern trend is to elaborate them through prolonged macerations, keeping it in oak barrels and toning down its green pepper notes.
Sauvignon Blanc creates wines of superlative quality when the grape’s vigor is carefully controlled. This way, a proper balance between leaves and fruits is achieved and grapes are harvested when they have reached maturity.
Chardonnay is one of the most relevant grapes in winemaking; it possesses a vigorous character with aromatic strength and exquisite flavor. This variety produces balanced wines with distinctive fruity aromas in cold regions such as Patagonia.
Cabernet Franc is a grape variety that is mainly used for blends in order to enhance Malbec’s, Merlot’s or Cabernet Sauvignon’s flavor. Patagonia’s climatic conditions are shaping it to be the region’s next big red variety. In recent years, it has gained importance because it creates exotic wines in Argentina’s scenario; wines of shiny red fruits and tannins that are both rustic and refined, giving it a unique character.