After making the magical journey through Quebrada Cafayate — scenery that reminded me of Canyonlands in Utah — I would never had suspected to arrive in the fast-growing wine region of Cafayate. For wine, there are so many things that don’t make sense. First, the elevation is more than 5,000 feet. Second, the soil is composed of boulder sized rocks, and clay. Third, it’s hot and dry. Overall, some of these things can add up to ideal growing conditions. But to see massive cacti gracing the landscape the notion of wine just doesn’t enter the head.
Yet take Jose Mounier the gentle and unassuming owner of Finca Las Nubes, a small organic boutique winery nestled at 6,000 feet up against the foot of San Isidro Hills and one begins to wonder. What was he thinking? About ten years ago he decided to make this magical but rocky and harsh environment the home of his winery Finca Las Nubes. A sign graces the entrance to the winery and his home “Vinos Con Pasion”. After a quick tour and tasting of his wines, I believe him. This is not just a marketing slogan. The guy is nuts about making great wine.
Sitting more than 700-800 feet higher than his winemaking brethen, his vineyards are managed entirely by hand. He refuses to use machines, herbacides or pesticides. It’s 100% natural. The rocky soil combined with the high elevation means he barely gets 1 bottle of wine per vine planted. Total production tops out at just about 2,000 bottles. He’s got more land, but I’d hate to think of the work he needs to do to make it plantable.
Mounier’s passion goes beyond the vineyards and into the winemaking. Each year the harvest of his entire vineyard is completed in one day. Every attention to detail isn’t missed. Even the bottles are bottled by hand – each and ever one. Growing Torrontes, Tanat, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, he bottles two lines of wines. The Finca Las Nubes includes Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and a rosé. The Torrontes grape is thought to be a distant neighbor of Malvasia and to have originated somewhere in the Mediterrenean, most likely Spain. It’s a fruity, simple yet extremely aromatic white grape. Favoring the hot climate of the Cafayate valley, Torrontes has become somewhat of a symbol of this wine region.
Mounier’s bottles wines under two labels. One under the Finca Las Nubes brand and a premium line that bears his name. While certainly not his best nor most complex offering, but I’d have to say on this hot day as the sun was setting across the valley with Cafayate just awakening from its afternoon siesta, the Finca Las Nubes rosé was the winner in my tasting.
I took some time the next day to experience one of the larger producers in the valley. Formerly owned by an Argentine, Domaine Etchart was acquired by a large French conglomerate a several years ago. Evidence of the difference of style and shall we say passion, between Mounier’s Las Nubes and this mass production machine is seen everywhere: from the 20 foot stack of pallets of empty bottles awaiting the automated bottling line to the whimsical and carefree nature of my guide who to my delight popped open nearly a dozen wines and eagerly offered second tastings. Las Nubes had 4 bottles open and carefully measured each taste. Hey, when you have it flaunt it. When it’s rare take a more judicious approach.
All this is not to say that mass producers are unable to produce a great wine. In fact, the opposite could be true. For with somewhat limitless resources a fine bottle can be made. Perhaps the only thing missing is the passion.