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Argentinean Wine: Familia Zuccardi Interview

Familia Zuccardi’s history goes back to 1963 when my father, Alberto Zuccardi, acquired a plot of uncultivated land in Maipú (province of Mendoza). As an engineer, he used the land to experiment with an irrigation system he had devised based upon a similar method used in California.  His intention was to demonstrate to wine producers in the area the advantages of this piping system, and it wasn’t long before this activity had seduced him, becoming the great passion of his life. Five years later, in 1968, he had expanded the area for growing grapes considerably and it was then that he began constructing the Familia Zuccardi winery.

I, José Alberto Zuccardi, started working at the winery in 1976 when I was 22, in the supervision of one of our vineyards located in Santa Rosa in the province of Mendoza.

I always felt especially attracted to the work on the vineyard, and it was because of this passion that from 1980 I began to spearhead the transformation of our vineyards towards the production of high quality wine varieties. This process continued until 1990, and in 1991, now as the Executive Director, I traveled for the first time to Europe in order to introduce our brand and our Santa Julia winery at the most important international wine fairs. In that same year, we had our first export destination in England, and in 1999 we introduced our first line of premium wine called, Zuccardi Q.

In the last few years my children, the third generation of the family, have actively joined the development of the company.

Sebastián began the development of everything related to the production of sparkling wines and today is leading the production of our vineyards in the Uco Valley and is also the Director of Winemaking. Miguel created and gave life to our division making extra virgin olive oils and Julia is working on our Guest House project which is our very own tourism business venture.

Zuccardi Winery in the Altamira micro region, Mendoza

Zuccardi Winery in the Altamira micro region / Source

♦ What is the state of Argentinean wines today?
I’ve always said that if 20 years ago you would have said to me that today we would be living this reality, I would have asked where I need to sign! A lot still remains to be done, but what has been achieved so far has been extremely positive.

Wine is a drink that culturally expresses the country that is producing it, and is something that is not always found with industrial type products. In that sense, Argentina has an advantage over the other New World producers because we have many strong cultural expressions that the outside world identifies with Argentina, such as meat, tango and football. What is even more important is that we have definitely succeeded in implementing an authentic Argentinean style.

Interestingly, 74% of wine produced in Argentina is consumed within our borders and we therefore do not need to make wines with a style suited for exports.

The importance of the domestic market requires us to make wines with an Argentinean accent, looking for what the consumer in our own country wants. This is a very important difference because the consumer who is traveling around the world will not find changes in the same wine whether they drink it in Argentina, the United States or Europe.

I think the future we have in front of us is very promising and Argentinean wine is still very far away from reaching its best. While the current situation shows that the rate of export growth is now less competitive with other nations, the image and quality of the wines from Argentina is good. Best of all is that we still have room to improve and supporting it comes a generation of winemakers and agronomists who have a lot of passion for what they do and a great innovative spirit. When I see the work that my son Sebastián does and other youngsters that are putting their head, heart and soul into this activity, I believe that the finest wines are yet to come and the best thing about Argentina’s wine production is its future!

Stunning surroundings of the Zuccardi Winery in Altamira, Mendoza

Stunning surroundings of the Zuccardi Winery in Altamira / Source

♦ How do you define the essential elements that make Argentinean wines unique? Why do you think that Argentinean wines have become so popular around the world?
Today Argentina is recognized as a producer of high value wines and this is by far the fastest growing category in the international market. While we still have a long way to go, what we have achieved so far is admirable. In this sense, the role that Malbec plays as our signature grape is very important.

For a country like Argentina, this is vital as we have a long tradition of consuming wine but we are a relatively new player on the international market.

The key is to ensure that we will be increasingly taken into account by consumers abroad due to the excellent price-value relationship that can be seen with most Argentinean wines and in particular, Malbec wines. With silky, elegant, red Malbec wines standing out, their character still allows even the most entry-level varieties to be enjoyed. Its extraordinary quality-price relationship and its pleasant sensory experience allow it to penetrate a very interesting segment of the market. Malbec wines have also generated the image of one of Argentina’s most important cultural icons.

It is remarkable how this is shown at the international wine fairs we have attended abroad. Usually, people who visit the stand of any normal winery will often ask to try their best wine. However, when they approach the stand of an Argentinean winery they directly ask for Malbec proving that the degree of identification that has been achieved between Argentina and Malbec is very strong.

Today Argentina is competing in all price segments. If for example, we compare Argentina with Chile we can see that the average price of our wines is in fact above the wines from our Andean neighbors in the major international markets.

Scenic snow covered mountains overlook the Zuccardi Winery, Mendoza

Scenic snow covered mountains overlook the Zuccardi Winery / Source

♦ How have Argentinean wines evolved over the last few years?
While the role of Malbec as the signature grape has been very important for the international development of Argentinean wine, today we are focusing on going a step further with this variety. We are showing its huge potential, exhibiting the differences that the variety of regions and micro regions can make depending on where they are produced in Argentina. Zuccardi in particular is putting a lot of time and effort in Research & Development, in order to detect the best terroirs in Mendoza and to achieve significant progress in the diverse range of grape varieties and wine styles. We investigate the characteristics of each of our vineyards and its soil in order to manage the differential that exists within each area so that we can combine the harvest of the areas that we consider to be similar.

Then in the winery, we have installed an experimental division to carry out micro fermentations and tests such as harvesting the same plant at different times; isolating yeasts from our own vineyards which we use in our wines to give them a typical flavor from the area as well as conducting special fermentations of fortified wines and late harvest wines.

♦ Aside from Malbec, which other types of Argentinean wines would you recommend and why?
Besides Malbec, there is a great diversity of high quality wine varieties that can give you the same great satisfaction such as Bonarda, Tempranillo, Syrah and Torrontes, among others. We have a strong feeling and would bet that the white varieties of Torrontes and Bonarda as well as Cabernet Sauvignon of the red varieties are the next big wine types to come out of Argentina.

♦ For you personally, what makes the perfect bottle of Argentinean wine and why?
Today we do not look to make perfect wines, but instead big wines with a lot of identity. The foreign consumer values the fact that Argentinean wine has its own unique identity. This is something that differentiates us from other New World producers and makes us similar to the more traditional wine countries of Spain, Italy and France. Argentina must not lose sight of this advantage. We produce wines with character, expressing both the area where the vineyards are located and the people who make the wine. I also find it very important to continue to grow the concept of quality and care for the environment. This is something that we have been working on at Familia Zuccardi for over a decade with our organic crops and the concept of environmental sustainability which we have also come to discover that his is something that the foreign consumer particularly values.

Zuccardi Piedra Infinita vineyard, Mendoza

Zuccardi Piedra Infinita vineyard / Source

♦ Which is the best wine producing region in Argentina and which would you predict to be the next best region?
Not so many years ago it was enough to just talk about Argentina and it is only recently that names such as Mendoza, Patagonia and Salta have emerged. Today we are now starting to talk about micro regions, which is a big step in a relatively short amount of time. The future of Argentina is located in the regions and sub regions and we need to search through them to find their unique identities and special features. With the different varieties of grapes you can only get to a certain point in understanding the region but then it is necessary to go deeper, to search for one-off aspects. The world will then begin talking about Argentina’s zones, subzones and micro regions. It is important that when you travel to the different areas of Argentina, you look at the characteristics of the climate, explore the soils, try the grapes, and make some wine and it is only then that you will see the results. You’ll come to realize the enormous potential and great differences that exist in various parts of one zone such as in the Uco Valley with La Consulta, Altamira, Vista Flores, Gualtallary and San Pablo to name a few.

♦ What is the most difficult part of your job as a wine producer?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge that we face are those imposed by nature. Mendoza is a high desert region with an average annual rainfall of just 200mm; hence the importance of the rational management of water within the region. For us it is essential that there is a good amount of snow in the Andes Mountains during the winter so that the melt water can run through the beds of our rivers which we use for irrigation and our drinking water. Other situations such as late frosts or exceptional levels of rainfall during the harvest period are factors that complicate our work and for which we must be prepared to face in a sustainable way.

♦ What is your favorite part of your job?
For us wine is much more than a business or a job; it’s a way of life. This way of life connects us with new people and we are fortunate to perform a daily activity that brings people enjoyment, pleasure and happiness.

Pruning & caring for the Zuccardi vines, Mendoza

Pruning & caring for the Zuccardi vines / Source

♦ What is your favorite type of wine and why?
I think Emma, Tito and Aluvional wines are today the ones that define Zuccardi the best. We want each wine to have an identity, a quest and a different story. For us it is important that each of them has a reason; a reason for it to begin at the vineyard. We work towards and look to make unique wines.

♦ If somebody had never tried Argentinean wine before and came to the Familia Zuccardi winery, what would be the one wine you would serve them so that they had an idea about Argentinean wines?
The Zuccardi Zeta 2010 is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the excellent wine producing area of the Uco Valley. It is a wine that has a quest, a definition of style and clearly shows the path we have chosen and the direction which we are working in with our vineyards and the winery. This particular wine has fruity, fresh, balanced and harmonious aromas and flavors ensuring its big potential and popularity.

♦ You also produce olive oil at Familia Zuccardi; does the production and cultivation of wine and olive oil have any similarities?
Olive oil and wine have a lot in common. To begin with they are products obtained from plants that live and survive in similar areas. They are products that go hand in hand on the table, and are very important in the Mediterranean diet and they also have the same points of sale.

Mendoza has olive plantations which are more than 60 years old and were brought to Argentina by the Italian and Spanish immigrants who had also brought their grapevines.  It is very common in Mendoza to see olive groves in the perimeters of the grape producing vineyards which goes to show the relationship between grapes and olives.

In general, Argentina is a place where good olive oils can be obtained. However, Mendoza and San Juan which is where we are located are distinguished as having the highest potential quality. The climate and soil conditions that gave our region the timely growth of the vines has poor soils that are low in organic matter, a reliable thermal range between day and night and good light . These are all the same conditions needed for the development of healthy olives that contain expressive oils with spicy and bitter flavors and intense aromas.

Familia Zuccardi olive groves, Mendoza

Familia Zuccardi olive groves / Source

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