Exploring the Legacy of San Patricio del Chañar in Wine History

Welcome to a journey through time as we delve into the intriguing history of San Patricio del Chañar, a name that resonates with the rich heritage of winemaking. In this captivating exploration, we’ll uncover the story behind this remarkable place and its profound impact on the world of wine.

Situated at the foot of the Neuquén River, San Patricio del Chañar emerged as a haven for vineyards and wineries on once-barren lands. With nearly 1,800 hectares of vineyards, this region transformed itself into a flourishing vineyard paradise, a remarkable testament to human ingenuity and determination.

As we delve into the historical tapestry of this region, we’ll uncover the tales of pioneers like Marcelo Miras, an esteemed figure in Patagonian oenology who shaped the oenological landscape of San Patricio del Chañar from its nascent days. The narrative comes alive with stories of technological advancements, including the implementation of an expansive pressurized irrigation system that rivalled cities’ water demands.

Join us as we explore the myriad grape varieties that found their home in this fertile soil, from the ever-popular Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon to the lesser-known gems like Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Torrontés. Beyond the vines, we’ll also unravel the sparkling side of San Patricio del Chañar, where the art of crafting effervescent delights holds its own chapter in this wine story.

So, buckle up for a journey into the heart of San Patricio del Chañar, where history, innovation, and vines intertwine to create a narrative that has left an indelible mark on the world of wine.

The region

Located 55 km. to the northwest of the homonymous capital of the province of Neuquén, is the town of San Patricio del Chañar (SPC) belonging to the department of Añelo. This was the area chosen for large fruit-bearing undertakings until in 1999, after analyzing the conditions of the place, Julio Viola, founder of Bodega Del Fin del Mundo, glimpsed that the Patagonian desert had hidden great wine-growing potential.

The vineyards and wineries are installed at the foot and on the north fence of the Neuquén River, on virgin soils, where land was reclaimed from the desert and almost 1,800 hectares were planted of vine” tell me Marcelo Miras, an oenological reference in Patagonia who was in charge of the oenology of this winery in its beginnings.

Convincing was the testimony offered to me by one of the most renowned oenological journalists in the country, Fabricio Portelli, when I asked him about his vision of the area: “I witnessed the birth of many Argentine wineries that are today benchmarks, but only one terroir (or rather said wine province) as San Patricio del Chañar.

And it is not only a matter of soil and climate, but rather of man. The same one that today is so important and influential in the most traditional areas of Argentina. Because without man’s search, motivated by tireless curiosity, fueled by passion but also by hunger for glory, the challenge to the limits would not have been possible.

SPC was born out of nowhere, in a desert, just like Cuyo more than 150 years ago, although in this case on an immense Patagonian steppe. The desire is the same, but this time technology enhanced things. The makers were more experienced than the winemakers, when it all started almost 20 years ago. But today they all live together in the great Neuquén wine family. What they achieved in a short time is very strong, because it is not only about an area, but an entire province represented by a small area.”

The weather

The area registers an average annual rainfall of 180 mm and thermal amplitude greater than 20°C in the maturation stage. “San Patricio del Chañar is an area where the summer is generally short, and the nights are cool/cold,” explains Nicolás Navío, winemaker at Bodega Patritti. Strong west-southwest winds predominate, mostly during spring and summer, favoring the health of the vineyards, by attenuating the development of diseases.

The other very relevant climatic characteristic is the large amount of time exposed to the sun. The perfect combo of conditions needed to obtain high quality grapes. “Brightness is very important, so the varieties usually reach their point of maturity without problems. The cool nights allow maintaining a balance between acidity and alcohol, generating wines with a very good structure. On the Winkler scale, it is an area between 3 and 4”, Julio Viola (son), director of Bodega Del Fin del Mundo, tells me. This scale that Julio mentions, allows to measure viticultural regions from the point of view of temperature [source ].

SPC is located at latitude of 39° south which “is equal to that of the Bordeaux region in France. What in Mendoza they look for with altitude, which is cool nights and thermal amplitude, we have with latitude” comments Roberto Schroeder, president of the Schroeder Family [source]. On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the fact that the region is affected by strong winds, so “the cultivation of vines is protected from the winds by means of curtains of poplars (living hedges), also with the planting of pastures”, Leonardo Puppato, head of oenology at Familia Schroeder, tells me.

Soil

As Marcelo Miras commented, the region had virgin soils and where there was desert, cultivated vineyards were created between 320 and 415 meters above sea level. The region has sandy and rocky soils. Sandy soils do not retain water well and are poor in organic matter; warmer wines will come out of them, with a large number of aromatic nuances and less structured. On the other hand, rocky soils are perfect since they favor the growth of the vine as they have very good drainage and permeability.

Leonardo Puppato recounts that “in some plots the hoses had to be raised because, due to the very sandy soils and the frequent winds in the region, they clog up. The fact of being raised does not harm irrigation in case of strong winds, because at most the drop would run 2 or 3 cm. of the plant what is within the range of permitted distances”.

Varieties

Marcelo Miras says that “the varieties introduced in the first stage were Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Semillon, Torrontés, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Gewürztraminer, Tannat were then added”.

For his part, Julio Viola (son) comments that “the main variety planted in this area is Malbec, followed by other reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir among the most traditional. Other less popular reds also appeared, such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Tannat. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay lead the list for Whites, followed by Semillon, Viognier and Torrontés”, and then adds that “it is an area that can afford to make great Pinots and great Cabarnet Sauvignons even though they have very different growth cycles.”

The technology

“All the warehouses were installed with state-of-the-art technology, which continued to incorporate technology over the years, thus improving their operational capacity”, says Miras, and this is evidenced, for example, in the testimony of Julio Viola (father) in an interview for the magazine Clase of El Cronista, “we managed to implement what ended up being one of the largest pressurized irrigation systems in South America: 6 plants were installed that pump water equivalent to the demand of a city of 200,000 inhabitants through a network of 400 kilometers of underground aqueducts and a total of 9 thousand kilometers of drip hoses, equivalent to the distance between Buenos Aires and New York. This is how we transform the desert into a green oasis.” [source]

All the wineries in the region were built on top of their land to take advantage of gravity and use the least number of pumps. They are modern, functional and equipped with the latest technology. Some are ISO 22000 certified.

The wines

We already talked about the history of the region, the climate, the types of soil, the varieties planted and the technology. All this is combined to obtain grapes with excellent health conditions, great concentration of colors and aromas, slow evolution of tannins and a perfect level of acidity. As a result, they will then give high-quality wines. The wines of the region present a remarkable concentration of color in all their varieties, with very fruity aromas, great body and structure. The cold climate allows for more elegant red wines. The cold climate allows for more elegant red wines.

Obviously, when we talk about wines, we do not stop only at still wines, since the sparkling wines of the area have very well earned their good reputation as Julio Viola says: “A separate chapter for sparkling wines. It is worth noting that acidity is not corrected for sparkling wine bases or for white wines in this area due to the excellent natural concentration they present. I believe that the potential in sparkling wines is very high, taking into account the enormous proportion of Pinot Noir that this area has compared to the rest of the country”.

Exploring the Wineries of San Patricio del Chañar

Nestled in the heart of San Patricio del Chañar, a region celebrated for its transformation from arid desert to thriving vineyards, lies a constellation of wineries that embody the essence of dedication, innovation, and the art of winemaking. These wineries have not only redefined the viticultural landscape but have also etched their names into the narrative of San Patricio del Chañar’s enological journey.

Marcelo Miras and the Pioneer Spirit: At the forefront stands the visionary oenologist Marcelo Miras, a true pioneer in the region’s winemaking evolution. Miras’s imprint can be found in the foundations of many of the area’s wineries. His dedication to experimentation and his knack for blending tradition with modernity have set the tone for winemaking in San Patricio del Chañar.

The Schroeder Family Winery: Among the standout wineries, the Schroeder Family Winery holds a special place. With its roots dating back to the very reclamation of land from the desert, the Schroeder Family Winery has become a testament to the harmonious relationship between nature and human effort. Their journey involves not only crafting exceptional wines but also unearthing the past, as fossil remains of ancient dinosaurs were discovered during the winery’s construction.

Innovation Meets Tradition: The wineries in San Patricio del Chañar are marked by a distinct fusion of innovation and tradition. Armed with knowledge from respected industry figures like Michel Rolland, Roberto de la Mota, and Mariano Di Paola, the professionals at these wineries infuse their craft with insights from both national and international fronts. This unique blend results in wines that capture the terroir’s essence while embracing contemporary techniques.

Diversity in Vines and Styles: As you explore these wineries, you’ll find a diverse array of grape varieties, each with its own story to tell. From the bold reds like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to the elegant whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the wineries of San Patricio del Chañar showcase the region’s capacity to produce a rich spectrum of flavors and aromas.

A Journey of Discovery: The experience of visiting these wineries goes beyond just tasting wines; it’s a journey of discovery. Guided tours offer insights into the winemaking process, from vine to bottle, while allowing you to witness firsthand the passion and dedication that goes into each bottle. With sprawling vineyards against the backdrop of the Neuquén River and the majestic Andes, the wineries’ locations themselves become part of the allure.

In conclusion, the wineries of San Patricio del Chañar symbolize the region’s triumphant transformation from desert to vineyard oasis. Their stories are intertwined with the land’s history, and their wines reflect the synergy of nature, expertise, and creativity. As you savor their vintages, you’re not just tasting wine—you’re experiencing the culmination of a remarkable journey that continues to evolve with each passing vintage.

Towards the future

Although 15 years seems like a long time, when we talk about vineyards, yield, development of quality products and positioning in internal and external markets, they are nothing. It is just the beginning. For this reason I was interested in knowing the opinion of the referents consulted about how they imagine the future of the region and below I share their words:

Marcelo Miras

“From here to the future I see a consolidation of the area, by the vineyards becoming a viticultural oasis. Only time gives winemakers a better understanding of the conditions of grape production. All this will allow us to continue improving the quality of the wines year after year”.

Fabricio Portelli

“For now, they are young wineries that are just beginning to balance themselves out, like the wineries that have already achieved a stable presence in various markets, and now is the time to consolidate. I think they are in full search of their own style, of modern and expressive wines, with the strength that marks the region.

A story that is just beginning and that promises to write something very serious if consistency is maintained, especially at the hands of Pinot Noir and Malbec; and hopefully Merlot too. Now it’s time for them to look in the mirror and focus on achieving a style that distinguishes them. It has everything ahead of it, but without a doubt it continues to be the most emerging region, due to its recent past, its great present and all the potential it has for the future”.

Julio Viola

“I believe that the future of this area depends much more on human vicissitudes and the country’s economic ups and downs than on climatic conditions. Since there are few companies, the departure of one or the arrival of another strongly changes the macro numbers, but in short, if we analyze the wine potential, we only see growth possibilities. More established vineyards each year, greater characterization of all vineyard sectors, increasing precision in frame-by-frame diagnoses that allow the application of differentiated cultural techniques and tasks”.

Tourism

If we talk about wine regions, we cannot ignore the Wine Route, which, as in provinces such as Mendoza and Salta, for example, includes tours and visits to wineries, gastronomy and different attractions. In the case of Chañar, all the wineries are open to the public with a good gastronomic offer and guided tours. They also offer the possibility of participating in the pruning and harvesting, and in particular I mention the case of the Schroeder Family since in the soil movements that were made when the winery was built, fossil remains of dinosaurs that that inhabited these lands have been found. A few 75 million years ago.

Conclusions

Undoubtedly, San Patricio del Chañar is one of the youngest regions on the Argentine wine map, where all efforts are focused on producing high-quality wine, leaving aside high yields. As Leo Puppato says, “in this region we do not do quantity, but quality”.

It is indisputable that state-of-the-art technology plays one of the most important roles. This added to the capacity of the professionals in charge of each of the undertakings added the support and advice of great references of the industry at national and international level (Michel Rolland, Roberto de la Mota and Mariano Di Paola). This combo is completed and enhanced by the characteristics of the terroir, which explains the phenomenon of explosion and positioning of the area as a producer of premium wines that are recognized worldwide.

Also read: Catastrophic Flood that Nurtured Future Vineyards

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: November 2, 2022Last Updated: February 27, 2024

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