Part 6 of a 6 part series on Mendoza, Argentina
Picking one producer to highlight for a series like this 6-part series on Mendoza is often very hard to do. So much so, that I'll usually end up abandoning the thought and will instead write multiple articles or a compilation piece. This time though, it was easy to confidently say I found one of the best Mendoza wineries.
From the minute I stepped foot into SuperUco I knew it was special. This is not to say the other wineries we visited weren't amazing in their own way. They were…and perhaps down the road I will write some of them up as well. But SuperUco is one of those places that warms you deep in your belly, makes you feel that you are in the presence of greatness. You know, one of those moments where you pause and realize just how lucky you are. Join me on a photo journey as I attempt to share that good fortune with all of you…
¡Bienvenidos a Bodega SuperUco!
First, meet Gabriel Michelini! One of the four Michelini Brothers that are both widely known and revered throughout the Mendoza wine world. The other three Michelini brothers – Matías, Gerardo, and Juan Pablo – are known for their Zorzal and Passionate Wines. More recently in 2012, Gabriel got involved and they kicked off a project to create their first biodynamic wines under the SuperUco and Calcáreo labels. The intent of this project is to create wines with a true representation of the Uco Valley unique terroir. Uco Valley tends to have very rocky soil with quite a bit of chalky, calcareous (Calácero) elements like limestone.
Taste of Place
As you can see by the photos above, Gabriel is very passionate about this soil and the Uco Valley terroir. We talked about their property and vision while he dove deep into the soil, having us smell it and feel it. And, of course, he told us all about their chickens and other furry winery friends that help fertilize and turn the soil the way nature intended. One picture that's not shown is Gabriel showing us their biodynamic calendar and explaining how they follow the cycles of the moon and other ecological influences to further improve the quality of their yield and resulting wine in harmony with nature.
Related to this deep appreciation and respect for their environment is the unique circular planting of their vines around the winery as you can see in this arial photo above. They believe that circles are more representative of nature where there are no truly straight lines or sharp edges/angles. Whereas the circle is synonymous with perfection in nature. Another benefit of this vineyard layout is the 360 degrees of sun exposure. Off to the left, you can also see their restaurant area. Even this, they do differently from other wineries in Mendoza.
While we didn't actually get to eat here (it was 10am, a bit early for lunch!), their approach mirrors that of the wine. Meaning they are striving to give their guests a true, authentic taste of place…traditional grilled and baked clay country meals. While still elevated and delicious they aren't taking the typical super fancy approach that we found at all of the other wineries. No white tablecloths, no painstaking plating with the help of tweezers. Instead they create an environment that makes you feel as though you've been invited to your friend's grandmothers backyard for a Sunday meal. And let me tell you, just based on the smells coming off that parilla while we where there, this is going to be a meal you won't forget…with views and wine to match.
A Labor Of Love…And Nature
We're immediately struck by the beauty of the varying winemaking casks and vessels as we move inside the octagon shaped winery. Similar to what we previously mentioned about the layout of the vineyard…this is not perfect straight lines and rows of barrels like we see at so many other wineries. This is an organic, functional layout of vessels. Letting the fact that you are at a working winery really shine through. One thing we do immediately notice…no stainless steel to be seen.
Yes, we're onto something with that observation! They only ferment and age in what they call "noble materials"…meaning concrete (read all about the history of concrete in Argentinean winemaking here) vessels, fudres and to some degree smaller oak barrels. Quick aside – fudres are similar to oak barrels but much larger in size. They look like large upright oak casks. Due to their larger size the wine has less contact with the wood meaning a much clearer expression of the wine's fruit and terroir and less influence of the oak.
Gabriel walks us around and talks us through the different vessels and how they use them. This large concrete urn? This is where they ferment and manually break up the cap and help macerate from the top, as he demonstrates. They prefer a hands-on winemaking approach so that they can truly monitor and assess when to move things from stage to stage. Like in nature, no two situations are exactly the same so the approach to making wine shouldn't be either. Similarly with the barrel…they specifically choose this kind of barrel with a trap door so that they can both monitor better and so that they can manually rotate the barrels without leakage. Yup, you read that right…they have a daily manual rotation schedule for all of their barrels at this stage! Is this more labor intensive? Yes. But when it's a labor of love that's kind of the point.
In addition to the vessels that they choose SuperUco is also very thoughtful about all elements of the process. They only use wild yeast from their vineyards, they don't use any sulfites, nor do they filter their wines. And, of course, no pesticides or chemicals in any part of the process. All of this attention to detail and effort results in incredibly complex, terroir driven wines. A Calcáreo Sauvignon Blanc that I tasted, for example, had such a distinct taste of oyster shells! This, of course, is driven by the calcareous minerals in the soil of Uco Valley. While I normally have a decent palette this was such a uniquely clear expression of the land. I will now know that taste and what it means anywhere. You know I ended up with a bottle of that wine…and quite a few others!
Our Final Sip from One of the Best Mendoza Wineries
It only seems fitting that we end our 6 part series reflecting on our time in Mendoza here. With, truly, one of the highlights of our trip. Meeting producers as passionate as Gabriel reminds me of how important that passion is and why we do what we do here at The Crafty Cask. It's easy to think that all winemakers have this level of passion. You realize that's not true as soon as you feel how palpable it is when it truly exists and is core to everything they do. SuperUco is a must-visit…not only for their incredible wines but for the passion, story, experience and those mind-blowing views. Get those bags packed…it's time to head to Mendoza!