Up at about 9,000 feet above the world, with little atmosphere to protect them from the sun’s rays, little white butterflies dance above lavender blossoms.

“I had never been to Gualfin [the Bonner ranch in Argentina’s remote Calchaquí Valley] at this time of year,” reported our man in Argentina, Diego Samper. “It is full of white butterflies!”                                 

In preparation for the release of our upcoming Calchaquí Collection, we revisit our findings from the 2021 Calchaquí growing season.

More on that in a moment... But first, do all wines get better with age?

This week, resident expert Julien Miquel explains aging potential in wine… how to tell if a bottle will cellar well… how age-worthiness affects price... and the great mystery behind how wines can age at all…

Little White Butterflies of Doom, Revisited Cont’d

With limited internet and telephone access in Argentina’s Calchaquí Valley (many vineyards don’t even have electricity), you can’t just hop on a skype call with your favorite winemakers.

Instead, we asked Diego to go up to the Valley from Buenos Aires (a day’s journey of several hours both in the air and on the ground) and take stock.

What he found was a vinicultural boom, a broken label machine, and an ominous sign for the 2021 cosecha up at the highest altitudes.

A weak economy made for three hard years in the Argentine wine industry. The loss of tourism and readily available laborers during COVID didn’t help.

Yet, Diego arrived in the Calchaquí Valley to find the general mood much uplifted.

“The valley is just starting the vendimia [another word for harvest] – the lower valleys and white grapes are the first on the list. There is a sense of joy even during these hard times. Families are getting together as everyone shows up to help after a challenging year.”

The cause for this newfound optimism? It wasn’t just spending time with family.

“Wine demand has increased. Word is getting out about the quality of wines from Salta [the wider region that includes the Calchaquí].”

Our favorite producers certainly are busy. 

Diego was particularly impressed with three new malbecs from Sunal winemaker Augustín Lanus. In addition to Luracatao, Augustín is now sourcing grapes from Pucará (7,874 ft.) and Cachi (8,303 ft.).

Says Diego:

“All three malbecs are completely different. You can taste the terroir perfectly! The Luracatao is rugged while the Cachi focuses more on balance (my favorite); and Pucará has a freshness with herbal notes (very hard to achieve in the wine world). I think this is a good product to bring back.”

Tasting with Augustin in the wine town of Cafayate

Augustin also had some less than ideal news: our next shipment of Sunal would be delayed for at least a month.

We figured it was a shipping issue...

“No, our label machine is broken.”

The label machine up in the Valley is broken. They cannot print the labels they need for our bottles.

Now, we are huge fans of Sunal – heck, we’d take the stuff in plastic jugs.

Alas, the US government is not of the same mind. You can’t mess around with wine labels. What goes on them is tightly regulated. If a wine shows up without a label, or with a label that the authorities don’t recognize (even a name they don’t recognize), that bottle is going straight back (or, more likely, sitting in a warehouse for the rest of time).

Our Kingdom for a label machine!

Meanwhile, our smaller producers are also thriving. The Partnership means a lot to them; our cellar has literally kept some of them in business over the past year.

Continues Diego:

“By supporting small producers, you really make a difference. They showed me new barrels, concrete eggs, or plans to build bodegas. Supporting them brings new projects to the valley.”

Visiting with local contacts in San Lorenzo

Finally, Diego made the long trek over to the Bonner ranch at Gualfin.

That’s where he saw the butterflies, fluttering away above the lavender plant outside the sala, or main house.

The lavender at Gualfin

At the ranch, he found the farmhands hard at work building irrigation ditches and small dams, capturing what water they could.

As it turns out, those little white butterflies are a sign of drought.

According to the foreman, Sergio, the ranch is in desperate need of rain. We have plans to plant more grapes in our vineyard at Pucarilla (about an hour by 4x4 or two and half hours on horseback from the sala) – without more water, they won’t have a fighting chance.

Yet, according to Diego, the grape vines we do have don’t seem to mind the lack of rain thus far.

“The vineyard is green. The grapes just went through veraison [the onset of ripening, signaled by a change in color from green to purple] and have begun to turn sweeter. They think they will be ready in late March.”

Diego at Pucarilla

Diego also reported that pruning was underway for the vine leaves. In what will seem like a terrible paradox, even in drought there still remains a risk that excess moisture could disrupt the ripening process. So the farmhands are cutting away the leaves around the grape bunches to forestall excess humidity build up or shadow.

Malbec really likes it dry.

Until next week,

The Wine Explorer

Bonner Private Wine Partnership