Here in the northern hemisphere, the breezes now come with a chill, and the leaves on the tree outside our window are shifting gold.
Down in northwestern Argentina, however, on a little vineyard up at the edge of earth, the winter chill has begun to abate, and the once-desert landscape is suddenly speckled with little green bursts.
More on that in a moment. But first… Is non-alcoholic wine really wine?
This week, resident wine expert Julien Miquel takes a detour into the strange world of non-alcoholic wine… the opaque (and highly technical) production practices… the difficulty (impossibility?) of replicating the complexities of wine… and why they (probably) won’t replace the real thing anytime soon…
Bud Break at 9,000 Feet (Continued)
The Bonner House in the Calchaqui Valley
On the vineyard of Pucarilla, where our Tacana wine comes from (altitude 8,600 ft.), there are two houses.
One we built ourselves; it’s a 1970s “earthship” design, with the structure partially underground to keep indoor temperatures constant year-round, and a Spanish mission exterior (plus a touch of Roman arch and cupola building on the inside).
The other house predates the Bonner family. It’s an adobe shack with a cane roof and a beaten clay floor. A gaucho lives there. Today, he is probably sitting in the shack’s doorframe stirring coals under a grill where his lunch, goat ribs, is sizzling away. Once done, he’ll snooze for a bit, then walk over to the vine rows.
Horticulture is not his métier of origin – the calluses on his hands were formed in the considerably rougher trade of cowboying. A few weeks from now, he’ll journey down the mountains to the valley below where he’ll round up cattle wintering there and drive them back up to a broad plain where they’ll spend the summer munching on blue-green alfalfa.
Today, however, those tanned, hard hands will gently examine the green bursts that have just now emerged from the nearby vines – the first stage in a months-long journey towards the 2023 vintage of Tacana.
Grapevine Bud Break
Every year, after the harvest, the leaves on grapevines turn orange and gold, then fall off, just as they do on trees. The vine then goes into hibernation, saving what little resources it has left for the spring to come. The yearly growth cycle is over.
Once winter has passed, the warmer airs come in, the April showers begin, and the vine wakes up. Of course, up in the high desert at 8,600 feet, the “April showers” are more like gentle mistings (if they come at all). Fortunately, the melting snow from the peaks above Pucarilla will feed a small stream passing near the vines, from which their deep roots will leach a bit of moisture.
Once they feel the snowmelt and the warmer air, the vines at Pucarilla start moving. They take the nutrients they saved from the previous year, mix them with water to create sap, and pump it through their wooden veins to small, hard nubs out on their branches.
For a while it doesn’t appear as if much is happening. But inside the nubs tiny leaves are forming. They grow and grow until all the nubs burst at once into bright green leaves.
This is called “bud break,” the beginning of the growing season. Having used up all its reserves, the vine will now need to rely on those little green leaves to generate the energy for grape growing till harvest time.
This week and next, we celebrate the 2022 bud break up at Pucarilla with the release of our Tacana 2020. Be on the lookout for your invitation to enjoy some.
Until next week,