While Finca Suárez is an oasis of heady, summer calm, doves cooing and cicadas buzzing, fourth-generation vintner Juanfa Suárez — slap bang in the middle of the 2017 grape harvest — is trying to keep his cool.
On the penultimate day of harvesting Chardonnay from the family vineyard in Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, his mobile phone rings non- stop as he coordinates pickers and grape transportation, orders sparkling wine bottles and organises the rosé harvest while destemming Pinot Noir by hand (my hands are also helping out); the pressure is on.
While the winery in its current format is relatively new, springing to life in 2010, this family project has long had a presence in Paraje Altamira. Juanfa says: “The story begins with my great-grandfather, an enologist who’s the only member of the family to have studied the subject. Then, my grandfather and father (Facundo, a former mayor of Buenos Aires city) were grape producers but didn’t make wine. The family’s focus, however, has always been on Paraje Altamira, a southwesterly geographical indication in La Consulta, Uco Valley.
“One of the grapes we grow is Sémillon. That thread starts with my great-grandfather, who wrote the Manual ampelografico (“Ampelography Guide”) in 1911, mentioning the advantages of growing Sémillon in limestone; proof that this soil type isn’t just a trend. And while we didn’t have any for many years, I replanted it five years ago but didn’t discover that he talked about limestone 100 years ago until after planting. This is pure terroir, generation after generation, a family story.”
A musician by trade who plays guest trumpet with Argentine rock band Onda Vaga, Juanfa is rising to the challenge of replicating his great-grandfather’s profession.
He says: “The aim is to change the dynamic from selling grapes to up our own wine production — we’re currently bottling around 15 percent. We sell grapes to Chakana (where Finca Suárez produces its wine), Alto Las Hormigas and Matías Riccitelli for the first time this year. Mendel is one of our most important buyers as they have bought Malbec from the same plot for the past decade.
“And this is still a family project, with my dad and brother Emilio. My other project, Traslapiedra, which focuses on Altamira, includes my cousin Santiago and three friends.”
The Suárez portfolio is bijou: Malbec, Chardonnay, organic Sémillon, a sparkling rosé Pinot Noir; a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is due to be bottled shortly. Plus, a new baby joins the family this year. Juanfa says: “I am adding a rosé made from Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The original idea was to make a Pinot-Malbec but as I want it to be dry, I decided to ditch the latter to keep sweetness levels down.”
Another pet project has been setting up PIPA, an umbrella group that unites 12 small independent Paraje Altamira-based producers, with the strength in numbers collectively enhancing their profile. And it’s having the desired effect: British wine critic Tim Atkin tasted a bunch of PIPA wines on Tuesday.
One of the key founders alongside Juan Pablo Lupiañez from Bodega Lupa, Juanfa adds: “This project came about as there are lots of small producers here; we’re all neighbours and get together the whole time so it was logical to start a group. The only rules are that grapes are sourced from Altamira, they have to be 100 percent Altamira and the label says that.”
And, as if he didn’t have enough on his plate down on the vineyards, Juanfa is embarking on a new project with Fabián Vicario, enological support manager at Catena Institute.
“While I don’t know whether this line will be branded as Finca Suárez or Traslapiedra, it’s a specialised project: hand-crafted wine with minimal intervention, limited production with a maximum of two barrels sourced from specific plots.”
A long-term project that will only release wines once they are sufficiently aged, Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon will be the key players.