In case you missed our earlier messages, we’ve just opened our cellar for this year’s Tacana malbec 2018 release. Less than 200 cases remain. Click here to learn more about Tacana (extreme altitude – biodynamic) and view your members-only discount (up to $370 OFF).
It wouldn’t surprise us terribly to learn that extreme-altitude winemaker Raúl Dávalos had never heard of the coronavirus.
The journey to his bodega, over mostly unpaved roads, takes six to seven hours – mostly through landscapes so barren, you wonder why the Spanish, including Raúl’s ancestors, bothered to stop there.
And then, your car almost plummets off a cliff.
More on that in a moment. But first, wine expert Julien Miquel had quite a reaction the first time he tasted our Tacana malbec. See below...
And then, your car almost plummets off a cliff (continued)
Raúl “Yeye” Dávalos is the fifth generation of his family to live and make wine in the Calchaquí Valley. His eyes have a distant look, as if continually scanning the nearby Andes mountains. He does not elaborate when he speaks; in the shadow of such ancient peaks, man does not have bragging rights.
Yet, it was Raúl’s ancestor, the Spanish general Don Nicolás Severo de Isasmendi, along with his daughter Ascensión, who, at the turn of the 19th century, conquered this patch of the Andean foothills for winemakers evermore.
In 1810, Don Nicolás had just been reappointed governor of colonial Salta – a vast territory running from the Catamarca mountain valleys in the south, to the Andes in the west, to the border of what is now Bolivia in the north – when Spain’s colonial hold on South America collapsed.
There is some disagreement as to what happened to Don Nicolás in the ensuing power struggle. Some say he was arrested and sent to stand before the ruling Junta in Buenos Aires. Some say he hid out in a cave at Luracatao.
Either way, before long, he was back in the Calchaquí, where he married, began making wine in the town of Molinos, established Colomé (Argentina’s oldest bodega), and had a daughter, Ascensión.
Map of the Calchaquí Valley
With Ascensión, the family winemaking tradition as we know it today took shape. For it was Ascensión who, in the mid-1800s, brought malbec vines to the Calchaquí for the first time.
But instead of bringing the vines to port in Buenos Aires, then shipping them over land to Salta, Ascensión brought them around the tip of Patagonia, up the Pacific Ocean, and over land across the impenetrable Andes. Along with malbec, Ascensión also introduced the surname “Dávalos” into the Isasmendi lineage through her husband José Benjamin Dávalos.
Visit the Dávalos bodega at Tacuil today and it doesn’t appear that much has changed in the two hundred years since Ascensión’s Andean crossing.
You follow a dirt road for hours, bathing in taupe-colored dust, until suddenly, a vibrant green patch appears before you. You barely have enough time to register the beauty of this little hidden valley before realizing that the road is gone and your truck is about to plunge off a cliff.
Old hands know to sharply twist the wheel at this moment, executing a 90-degree left turn to stay on the road as it makes its way down to the green valley below.
On the road to Tacuil
Tacuil is still self-sufficient – generating its own power, water, and food. The winemaking technique practiced by Raúl still hews to traditions established long ago – purity, quality over quantity, wild yeast, and an aversion to oak so pronounced that Raúl once remarked his father would have shot him had he brought an oak barrel into the bodega.
Raúl talking shop with Julien Miquel
It may be rigid, but the Dávalos’ commitment to tradition serves a real purpose. Without it, making wine in such isolation, at such altitude, simply isn’t viable. It is a lesson each generation must learn on its own terms.
Raúl’s father, Raúl Sr., once told us how it was in his generation:
“While the isolation of the extreme terroirs makes production difficult even today, back then, it was even harder. Generators didn’t exist. Nor did modern machinery. Everything was done by hand. And the distances were greater.”
Back then, it took three days to reach Tacuil from Salta. Today, it takes just one. Yet, Tacuil is still too remote to compete in the market for “blank slate wines” – bulk wines that can be molded into a variety of different styles using oak or other additives.
The only reason to make wine in the Calchaquí is to compete in the market for terroir-driven wines – wines with such a pure expression of terroir that they cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
A malbec from the Calchaquí should not taste like a malbec from Mendoza (or anywhere else). That’s why we often tell people that, while they may have had Argentine wine before, they’ve probably never tasted anything like an extreme-altitude Calchaquí malbec.
When it comes to our own Tacana, we can only take credit for the vines. It is Raúl who insists that we simply let the land speak for itself.
‘Til next week,
The Wine Explorer
P.S. You can taste Raul's handiwork in our Tacana 2018 malbec. Simply click here to view our inventory (save up to $370 plus free shipping). Don't wait - supplies are extremely limited.