After our Posada del Jamón extravaganza, we climbed back into the bus and made our way to the Laborde vineyard.
This special vineyard is grown entirely to syrah. It is also the vineyard that Argentine Laura Catena chose to make a wine that represents some of the very best that her country has to offer. Much has been written about the legendary Catena family and their tremendous influence on the development of the modern Argentine wine industry.
Dr. Catena (she is also an emergency room doctor in San Francisco, Ca..sheesh!) has furthered this reputation by championing and developing the potential of Argentina’s smaller vineyards and grower-producers. The Laborde vineyard and wine is one such example. Here again, Luis Reginato is in charge of the winemaking.
The vine training system found in the Laborde vineyard is known in Argentina as “parral”. This system of horizontal vs. vertical shoot positioning is also referred to throughout the wine world as “pergola” or “tendone”. This method of training vines on a horizontal plane vs. a vertical one is also most evidenced in parts of northwestern Spain (Galicia) as well as throughout certain regions in Italy.
In the high altitude Uco Valley, where frost damage to fruit is a relevant concern, the parral system is beneficial in that grapes are a good 5-6 feet off the ground, where temperatures are at their lowest.
How did the Laborde come to be? And what exactly does “double select” signify?
In the mid 1950’s, an Argentine viticulturalist by the name of Luis Laborde traveled through France’s famed Rhone Valley and made a first selection of what he believed to be the very best syrah vines. Laborde brought these vines back to Mendoza and immediately planted them in a research vineyard in order to track their quality and potential in Mendoza.
From this research vineyard, Laborde then made a second selection, choosing only those vines that he believed to be superior in terms of quality and expression. With these vines he planted his own 10 acre vineyard in the Uco Valley, where he believed such vines would ultimately produce great wine.
Alongside the vineyard, irrigation channels can be seen. At regulated intervals throughout the growing season (July-January), a “tomero” or person in charge of regulating water flow, will flood irrigate vineyards throughout the region. The water (which comes from the rivers stemming from the nearby Andes mountains) will pass through these channels and into the vineyard.
A second most interesting viticultural “find” for me was to see up close and personal the system of layering or provignage. This technique of replanting or replacing vines is seriously old school and falling out of favor in many regions..except in Argentina. Why? The relatively low threat of phylloxera permits most vineyards to be planted on their own rootstocks rather than on grafted vines. In addition, flood irrigation also does a mighty fine job of killing the louse.
Provignage basically involves taking a cane from a mature vine, laying it in the ground a suitable distance away and burying the end of the cane under the soil. The end of the cane will be slightly cracked as a rock will be used to keep the can in place. Over the next growing season, the cracked portion of the vine will sprout roots and new shoots, which if trained properly, will grow into a new vine.
Pros: As the new vine is really an extension of a previously existing vine, therefore technically speaking, practicing layering preserves the average age of the vineyard. One could therefore, have a vineyard with vines that are over 150 years old!
Cons: These newly planted vines will retain all of the genetic strengths and weaknesses of the parent vines. This could be an issue if a vineyard is struck by a particular disease or parasite.
As were headed back towards the bus, were were greeted by a young caballero on horseback, handing out steaming hot empanadas.
Vineyard region: Uco Valley / La Consulta
Elevation: 3500 feet
Average vine age: 46 years
Rootstock: non-grafted /selection massale
Harvest method: hand harvested
Vinification: stainless steel fermentation
Elevage: 12 months in 50% new French and 50% second-use French barriques
Case production: 1500
The 2008 Laborde Double Select Syrah is deep and rich..lots of blackberry fruit, nuanced with touches of smoke, black licorice and El Rey dark chocolate. Tannins are ripe and fine.the acidity is squarely in the medium range. Missing are the cracked pepper or more savory notes and more streamlined structure that one often finds in syrah from the northern Rhone. It really just depends on which “style” you prefer. Would be really nice with a rib-eye steak or perhaps some wild boar?