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Tierra Divina Vineyards: Mendoza
I had been making Terra Rosa in Chile for three years, when, in 1994, I ventured over the Andes to see what was going on in Argentina. All those hundreds of hectares of ancient malbec vines; all those delicious, dark malbec wines to drink with Mendoza’s famous pasta!

And not a single other North American producer in sight.

Who could resist? It was like visiting Lodi for the first time all over again, except this time on steroids.


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The Andes, snow covered year-round, tower over the vineyards; the sky, brilliant blue in the crisp winter air, focuses a surreal light on the ancient blocks of malbec; mules pulling hand plows till the gravelly vineyards; and on a clear day it seems as though you can see all the way down to Patagonia!

Alluvial deposits fan out from the base of the Andes at around 1300 meters in elevation, descending gradually to the east. Over the millennia a gravelly sandy loam has been deposited on top of a deep strata of round river rock; it is this soil profile, sparse and superbly drained, that gives malbec its intensity and flavor.

Mendoza, lying in the shadow of the Andes, receives little rainfall, and without irrigation would remain desert. But the old timers back in the mid-1800s understood how to channel the mineral rich snow melt from the Andes into a complex system of reservoirs and canals that are the lifeblood of virtually every vineyard in Mendoza.

Talk about an amazing place to grow grapes!

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By 1998 I had assembled a group of superb vineyards and was preparing a winery for harvest. Then, for three weeks straight the rain fell; the vineyards that hadn't rotten were heavy with useless unripe grapes. One vineyard, owned by a Sr. Rollo, remained miraculously unscathed. He and I settled on a price and were scheduled to pick the following morning. I arrived with the picking crew to find the vineyard already harvested. Sr. Rollo had sold to a higher bidder; but no hard feelings, he assured me: “Come on over for dinner tonight. My wife made some fine tomato sauce which we will enjoy with her homemade pasta.”

I learned two important things from this incident: farm more vineyards than you plan on harvesting and link up with a reliable and honest partner. And, oh yeah, that the Argentines are a lot of fun if you just roll with the punches!

Rain can fall during the growing season and frost threatens early and late, but hail is the true scourge of Mendoza. Hail can attack any time and anywhere and can knock a vineyard out of production for a couple of years by destroying the buds. Many growers have erected hail nets as protection, but we have found that since hail is generally quite localized, farming a number of vineyards, widely spaced out along the length and breadth of the growing area, spreads the risk, and, as a side benefit, adds complexity to the wine.

We have been making our wines at the Cabrini winery since 1999. The Cabrinis are a fifth generation family, whose forebearers arrived from Italy in the great immigrant wave of the late 1800s.

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While scores of recently built wineries display arrays of stainless steel tanks, the traditional Mendoza winery is a multi-level affair, with one or two floors of concrete tanks build into the walls below the winery floor. Interestingly, some wineries are returning to the old ways, but the Cabrinis have used the heritage winery design for generations and see no reason to change.

The resulting wines prove the value of their tradition: excellent natural temperature control, easy cleaning, juice clarity, and gravity flow rackings. Of course, over the years, modern pumps and equipment have been introduced, but the original remains pretty much as it did in great-great grandpa’s time.

Tierra Divina Vineyards :: Home Page :: REDS, !ZaZin, Terra Rosa, Tierra Divina, Vale la Pena, and Chévere. Wines from heritage vineyards in Lodi, Argentina, and Chile :: CONTACT: PO Box 728, Santa Rosa, CA 95402 PH: 707-526-3914 | FAX: 526-9801