Monday, August 12, 2019

Extreme Viticulture: Bodega Colomé's Altura Maxima Vineyard

Source: Bodega Colomé
Imagine an ideal grape growing region. This would most likely be a Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine, hot days transitioning to cooler evenings, and a strong diurnal shift that extends the growing season and helps retain acidity. The vines would be planted in a mixture of rich volcanic soils or loess or porous limestone. Hail storms, wind chill, and frost would be non-existent threats. Basically Napa Valley.

Source: Bodega Colomé
However, viticulture occurs throughout the world where grape growers operate under very extreme conditions -- from high altitudes to northern frost to crushing heat and humidity. There are beachfront vineyards in Colares Portugal, vines buried several feet below the surface in Prince Edward Island Canada, and vines planted between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in Argentina's Salta's Calchaquí Valley. These high altitude vineyards face a greater risk of frost damage and most importantly, failure of the grapes to fully ripen due to wind chill.
Source: Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world (excluding Tibet, which recently planted high altitued vineyards). Located in Salta's Calchaquí Valley, the winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today. In 2003, the winery planted a trial one-hectare vineyard practically two miles above sea level.

Source: Bodega Colomé
This Altura Maxima Vineyard (“Maximum Height”) is perched at 3,111 meters (10,207 feet) and receives greater sun exposure as well as a wider diurnal variation where the temperature ranges between 18ºC and 33ºC between day and night. The extreme altitude actually helps facilitate the uniform and balanced development of the grapes. But which grapes? According to Martin Coscia, Brand Manager for Hess Family Latin America and an expert in high elevation vineyards, "We learned rather quickly that varieties which required long ripening cycles were not going to work – so we turned to Malbec".

Source: Bodega Colomé
The inaugural release of the Altura Maxima Malbec occurred in 2012 with the current release being the 2015 Altura Maxima Malbec ($135). The wine was barrel-aged for 24 months but Coscia states that "the true expression of terroir in this Malbec comes from the extreme altitude as well as soil composition – alluvial, sandy soils with a high percentage of gravel.” He continues, “with a semiarid-desert climate, grapes receive much more sun, much less UV protection and produce thicker-skinned grapes that deliver a robust mouthfeel supported by fresh acidity with surprising finesse.”

The Altura Maxima Malbec is pricey, so for more budget-conscious consumers, Colomé also produces wine from three other high elevation vineyards: La Brava Estate (5,700 feet), Colomé Estate (7,500 feet), and El Arenal Estate (8,800 feet). These vines and grapes face the same challenges but also receive equivalent sun exposure and acid inducing diurnal temperatures. That being said the La Brave vineyard is known for providing intense and ripe fruit, the Colomé Estate lends complexity and weight, and the El Arenal vineyard yields elegance and freshness. These vineyards are reflected in the Colomé Autentico Malbec 2017 ($32) and the Colomé Estate Malbec 2016 ($28). Cheers.

Friday, August 9, 2019

1718 Brewing Ocracoke: Jam Box for Brunch

1718 Brewing Ocracoke is well into their second summer and with an obvious demand, the brewery is operating at full capacity to continuously provide 10-12 beers on tap. During our weekly visit to this island, demand outpaced supply as several beers kicked and even a power outage didn't deter beer consumers. Garick & Jacqui Kalna opened the 10 bbl brewery in October 2017 and named it for the year Blackbeard was killed off Ocracoke's Springer’s Point. In July 2017, Garick gave a group a tour of the brewery, but it wasn't until this year that I was able to return.

The building itself fits neatly into the architectural feel of the village using mostly re-purposed wood, paneling, and shingles from the former Café Atlantic as well as reclaimed barn wood from Athens, Ohio. Other re-purposed items include the flight trays which were constructed from wine barrel stays and the tap handles from pieces of rough wood. And the seashells placed inside the filled-in knot holes in the wood floor are one of my favorite features.

Our first taste of 1718 Brewing's beer was at the Ocracoke Oyster Company where the Public AfterThoughts IPA was on tap while listening to Martin Garrish and Friends. This is a heavy IPA, even more than the 6.8% suggests. Next came a visit where I learned there's a major sour series in play as well as an old favorite -- the Brunch Coffe Kolsch. This beer is already a classic, the java flavors blend seamlessly into the minerality of the Kolsch - providing a flavorful and still refreshing beach beer. Another favorite of our family is the Happi-Jaq Juicy IPA - clean and more quaffable than the AfterThoughts. On the darker side, the Needs MoreCowBell Milk Stout and Mexican Chocolate Stout were solid with the Mexican providing just a touch of heat.

As for the sours, three kicked during our visit, the Prickly-Pear, Quat the Puck, and the Jam Box (Raspberry, Sea-salt, & Coconut). Each was excellent but the coconut in the Jam Box added just enough distinction to elevate above the others. Once the raspberry version kicked, it was replaced with the next in the series the Jam Box Blackberry Lemon. Once again, a nice sour - but the previous was a winner.

A few 1718 Brewing Ocracoke beers make their way up Highway 12 into Hatteras and the northern beaches but allocate time for a personal visit. Now that the Hatteras-Ocracoke passenger ferry and Ocracoke Trolley are running smoothly - there's no need to drive so feel free to imbibe. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Kalfu Kuda and Chile's Leyda Valley

Kalfu means ‘blue’ in the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous inhabitants of Chile, and for the Mapuche, Kalfu is synonymous with the magnificent Pacific Ocean that borders Chile’s western coastline. A coastline blessed with an exceptional cool climate, constant refreshing breezes and early morning fogs that enforce a slow, steady ripening period for grapes, helping to create balanced, elegant wines.
Whereas Chile's Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley seem to get the majority of wine recognition, be prepared to notice a new region coming of age: the Leyda Valley. This area is a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley, itself a smaller region located in central Chile, 55 miles west of the capital, Santiago. Leyda is a cool-climate region where the grapes are affected by the Pacific's Humboldt Current (A cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru). Although the terroir was suitable for viniculture, vines were not planted in abundance until the late 1990s when an irrigation pipeline was constructed to channel water from the Maipo River in the south. The cool ocean breezes and morning fog slow the maturation process and with abundant sunshine allow the grapes to fully ripen as well as develop complexity while still retaining acidity.

Kalfu is a brand from Vina Ventisquero - one of the vignerons who have leveraged the Leyda Valley to produce cool-climate wines, two which I received samples. This Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are sourced from the Las Terrazas Vineyard, a site situated just 7 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean and close to the Maipo River - thus receiving the full force of the Pacific's cooling influences. According to Kalfu winemaker, Alejandro Galaz, "From the vineyard to the bottle, producing cool climate wines can be challenging, but I enjoy a challenge – always striving to produce wines that are a sincere expression of elegance, distinction, and subtlety of the grape varietal."

Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19.00)
This wine is complex for its price with divergent citrus and tropical fruit aspects, mild minerality, and very clean and refreshing acidity.

Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir 2017 ($19.00)
This medium-bodied wine is chalky and dusty merging with black cherry fruit and slight spices and finishes with noticeable yet rounded tannins.