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Vineyard tour with Argento's Juan Pablo Murgia

Published:  22 March, 2021

With vineyard visits 
scarce, Andrew Catchpole joined Argento’s chief winemaker Juan Pablo Murgia for a virtual tour 
of his Mendoza vines

Juan Pablo Murgia may be 7,000 miles away as we chat via Zoom, but there’s no doubting the focus and enthusiasm with which Argento’s chief winemaker explains his dedication to organically rooted viticulture. He’s standing in one of his key vineyards in Alto Agrelo in Mendoza’s lofty Luján de Cuyo region, some 1,000m or so above sea level, with the snow-laden Andes as a backdrop. And, despite the ‘virtual’ nature of our conversation, both the audience that has tuned in and I can at least remind ourselves of the experience during this Welcome to My Vineyard tour.

He’s chosen to feature this Agrelo vineyard as it was one of two – along with an even higher site in Altamira – planted in 2009 when Argento took the plunge and decided to focus wholeheartedly 
on an organic philosophy.

“One reason was because of the size of this vineyard, it’s 230ha, one of the largest organic vineyards in Argentina, and it has amazing diversity. It is 80% Malbec, but then we have Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Semillon,” says Murgia.

“And then we have another diversity, the soil types that we have here, we are working with 80 different blocks, with very different textures of soil, from sandy-clay in the bottom of the vineyard, with more organic matter, to stony soils mixed with sand in the middle, to mainly stony soils in the higher section, very well-drained, where I am standing now.”

The result, he says, is an amazing diversity of results and diversity of wine styles, as you might expect. And expression of this diverse terroir is central to Argento’s organic philosophy.

“We are committed to making pure terroir wines, and as you know, terroir is a combination of factors – soil, weather conditions and the people making the wines. But one of the most important factors is the soil, and we really care about the soil here,” says Murgia.

When the vineyards were planted here and in Altamira in 2009, Argento undertook extensive research into the soils, mapping out the proposed vineyard sites, to help understand the texture and type of soils, to assist with both the planting of best variety in best site and also then dividing up the vineyard into those 80 aforementioned blocks.

Calicatas – the deep holes dug into vineyards to allow sight of the sub-strata below and roots of the vines (and much beloved in Mendoza) – were also used in this “scan” of the sites. Differing rootstocks were then allocated for each block, along with tailored irrigation by soil type and drainage.

The climate here in the Andean foothills also plays a key part, with high diurnal shifts, encouraged by altitude, breezes from the Andes and over 300 
days of sunshine a year versus cold nights, allowing the ripening grapes 
to retain freshness and acidity.

“It helps us develop this vibrancy in 
the wines, and the type of very pure 
and fresh flavours that we want in 
the wines,” says Murgia.

The third part of the winemaking jigsaw is the human part, he adds, 
saying that it is very important to take care in the winery, to have very gentle extraction of the must, and to be very careful about a light touch with oak, using larger sized and seasoned tonneaux – all to ensure typicity in the wines.

Organic techniques

This approach has become the modern mantra for many winemakers across the southern hemisphere, but this is where, for Murgia, organic viticulture really steps in and makes a difference. Put simply, organic cultivation allows the typicity to shine through, delivering from that carefully cultivated marriage between vine and site a greater sense of the terroir in the finished wine.

Murgia says the major demand of organic viticulture is having the “agronomic knowledge and the observation” needed every day, to be able to walk through the vineyard and understand its demands.

“It’s complicated to manage, so we have different techniques, for example by cultivating weeds to chill the soils and avoid the ants [a pest] laying eggs here.

“We work very hard on the soil by decompacting, opening the soil and giving it oxygen, activating the microbiology, believing this is the best way to increase natural organic matter,” he says.

Back to nature

With no synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides involved, this encourages the natural flora to spring up, which can then be worked back into the soil, keeping the whole healthy and thus the vines.

“Once you can control it, once you can manage it, the results are great, and this vineyard is very healthy.”

Murgia says that while these vineyards are certified as organic, that is almost an irrelevance, with the most important thing – “the truth” – being the overall philosophy. This involves going back to “the essence of the old days”, of a century ago, when vineyards were managed much more naturally and, most importantly, in harmony with the environment.

Healthy soils with healthy microbiology can encourage roots to go deeper, pushing down to 2m deep or more, says Murgia, and this is where “they can really connect with the terroir”. It’s a complete reversal of Murgia’s generation’s experience at university, he says, where everyone learnt about “chemical techniques”, and the parameters of managing vineyards have had to be changed. Now it is much more about prevention than intervention.

The results, he adds, are “great, with such vineyard management resulting in the best wine quality because of this organic management”.

The freshness and purity of expression that Murgia talks about are expressed across Argento’s more affordable Artesano range of wine, but the results of his organic philosophy really come into focus at the highest end, with the single-block expressions of Malbec and Cabernet Franc from within the Agrelo and Alatamira vineyards all expressing their contrasting terroirs loud and clear.

For the full tour, visit Harpers Wine & Spirit’s YouTube Channel.