First a note: We still have a limited number of cases from our extreme altitude Argentine collection available (see inventory here).

However, supplies are going fast. Click here to reserve your bottles.

Up 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,” reports our man in Argentina, Diego Samper. “It is full of white butterflies!”

Enchanting, perhaps. But an ominous sign.

More on that in a moment... But first, whatever happened to merlot?

This week, resident expert Julien Miquel discusses the oft-maligned grape behind some of Europe’s most expensive and ageworthy wines ($3,000+ for a new vintage!)... why so much merlot is terrible (recall the sticky-sweet Cali wines of yesteryear)... and how it met its downfall at the hands of a Hollywood flick…

Little White Butterflies of Doom (continued)

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 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 Augustín in the wine town of Cafayate

Augustín 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, sits 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 plants 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 a 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 buildup or shadow.

Malbec really likes it dry.

Until next week,

The Wine Explorer

P.S. Want more bottles of Augustin Lanus' Sunal Ilógico Criolla? Members in good standing get up to 20% off. Plus, shipping is FREE. 

Fair warning: we won't be able to keep this offer open for long. Don't wait to reserve your wines. Click here to get started...

Bonner Private Wine Partnership