The first stop on our Argentina wine tour brought us to Mendel Wines, located in the Luján de Cuyo department of Mendoza. This premium wine-growing area is considered by many to produce some of the most excellent malbec in Argentina, and some would argue the world.
The loosely textured soil, along with solid diurnal temperature variations (cool nights and long warm days) make the Luján de Cuyo a prime location in which malbec to grow.
Mendel is relatively new enterprise, having been founded in 2003 by Anabelle Sielecki and Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers. Sielecki was very keen to establish a domaine with some of the best vineyard sources in this venerable wine growing department. The objective being to produce artisanal wines that really showcased the terroir and potential of Mendoza.
With this in mind, Sielecki considered de la Mota, whose family winemaking roots run deep. Roberto spent 9 years working alongside his father at the venerable Bodegas Weinert before leaving to work as head winemaker at Bodegas Chandon. He also helped launch the Terrazas de los Andes portfolio, and was a key figure in the development and operations of the Cheval des Andes joint venture with Cheval Blanc. With such credentials, de la Mota seemed to be an ideal choice as partner and head winemaker of this new project. The winery is so named in honor of Anabelle’s father, a “self-made” man who greatly inspired his daughter.
My first impression of Mendel was this majestic olive tree planted at the end of the vineyards that overlooked the winery entrance. This should come as no surprise, as Argentine history is populated with a significant number Italian immigrants, many of whom planted vines, olive trees and built small wineries after settling in their new country.
Our group of 12 or so wine folk were warmly greeted by the Gabriel Roitman, the general manager of the estate. Gabriel provided us with an introduction to the establishment of Mendel as well as a “layout of the land” so to speak.
When Mendel was established in 2003, the vineyard consisted of approximately 22 hectares of malbec and a smattering of cabernet sauvignon vines, all of which had been planted in 1928.
These vineyards, along with the modest bodega on the property, formally belonged to a farmer who grew grapes and sold wine to larger wineries. At the time of purchase, the property had since been abandoned, however team Mendel methodically began restoring both the winery and the vines. One significant change in the vineyard however was the lowering of yields, by two thirds in fact, with the objective being quality over quantity.
Fast forward to 2010, and Mendel has judiciously acquired vineyard holdings in 2 additional locations throughout Mendoza. First, vineyards in the Luján de Cuyo sub-district of Perdriel are grown to 50/50 malbec and cabernet sauvignon Second, a 60 year old malbec vineyard located in the cool climate mesoclimate of the Uco Valley’s La Consulta sub-region (more on this later). In addition, a Bordeaux style dry Semillon is also produced from vines grown in the Uco Valley.
Next, Gabriel led us into the bodega and outlined the production methods employed at Mendel. Although many facets of the winery were restored in order to preserve the historical significance and integrity of the domaine, the new owners were committed to producing clean and well made wines without sacrificing quality. To this end, all grapes and must are brought into the winery and fed via a gravity flow system.
Fermentation takes place in 17+ different stainless steel tanks, as different plots are vinified separately. The wines are not subjugated to a rack and return (or delestage) however during the fermentation process the must does undergo punchdown (pigeage) 4 times daily. A pneumatic press is used to press off the wine before it is transferred to (Taransaud) barriques.
Witness these huge cement tanks (note: 408 hecto-liters) which are now used to store Mendel wines in barrique as they undergo their elevage for a period of anywhere from 12-16 months. The wines undergo a fining with egg whites and are not filtered.
The total annual production at Mendel hovers at around 90,000 bottles (7,500 cases) A significant 45% of this heads off to the United States. 15% remains in Argentina, and the remaining 40% finds its way abroad to Europe, Asia and other countries in Latin America.
In my next post: A Mendel wine tasting and patio picnic with Roberto de la Mota.