A section and pursuit that could take a lifetime!
This is a section that could be spoken about for hours or years, as there are so many different alternatives, combinations and views on each of the grape types grown in the areas (predominantly Mendoza and Cafayate). Below is a rough overview from a layman’s point of view…
The initial step in the process for the vineyard is to decide the grape varietal that they need to produce, what type of wine they would like and what grape varietals will grow on their land. Now that most of the vineyards are at least 10 or more yields into the vines’ lives (after this period the vines start to produce better concentrations and overall quality of wines), these decisions are pretty much made. On top of this, however, the vineyard also needs to decide the quality and longevity of the wine, the more concentrated the flavours the longer it needs to ferment and mature.
In order to prepare the vines, the grower will cuts back the vines themselves so that they yield less grapes and so a more concentrated flavour (usually the prime wine) and so on through the range down to the least potent/complex wines that will be used for the simplest and quickest drinking wine (or “youngest”) in the range.
Once this has been done the vines are watered in one of two ways. In and around Mendoza, the vines are still “flooded”, which involves a member of the government that will come and unlock the sluice gate at the entrance to the vineyard, allowing water to access the property from the main water channel that runs off from the canal. The alternative method (and what is used in varying measure across the wine valleys) is the “drip” method, which is basically a pipe that has been punctured in order for the water to drip onto the base of the vine.
Once the grape is picked, it then undergoes three main processes described below, designating how good it will be, how it will taste and how long it can be kept in the bottle….
Stage 1: The Fermentation
Practically the same for all of the types of varietal, this is the process of adding yeast to the crushed grapes (they will be sorted through and then selected according to their quality and then added with their skin (in the case of the reds) to the vats), to convert the sugar in them to alcohol. The temperature of the yeast is kept at a constant temperature (around 15 degrees for white and 27 for red). This process takes around 2 weeks to complete. More often than not, the vats are stainless steel but, in the case of the top quality, the producers sometimes also use oak barrels for this process.
Stage 2: Barreling
From the fermentation barrels (and after the process called Malalactic Acid fermentation which is a process of getting rid of the acid build up in certain wines (most of the white wines do not undergo this process as they are required to keep their acid)) the juice is then put into the oak barrels to age and for the balance between the tannins and the acid in the grapes to balance each other out. The younger wines are put into the barrels for around 6 months, the more pricey wines for around a year to a year and a half…taking on the flavours of the oak and enhancing their natural flavour. Again, there are different types and qualities of oak and also different methods of treating the oak originally, with oak chips being used to smoke the insides of the barrel and thus adding further flavour. The most expensive and the best barrels tend to come from France and are slightly less porous than other types.
Stage 3: Bottling
Depending on the desired quality of the wine, they are then moved to the bottles for sale or to spend a little longer aging to their full potential.
Due to the amount of sun, the acid and the tannins that Argentine wines have, the amount of time that they need to spend in the bottle, even the more expensive wines, is no where near the time that a French wine will need to spend, which is why plenty of the best wines from the region are being drunk at around 8 years after being bottled.