Dry Farming, Cool Climate and Eternal Snow. We can honestly say that 2016 has been the coolest year in the last three decades. The cool climate started over the winter of 2015 when snow poured over the Andes filling up the mountain streams and underground aquifers to historic highs. The Andes stayed white throughout the summer and photographs of green vineyards next to snow-covered mountains abounded on social media. Yields were 40 to 50 percent down throughout the region resulting in extremely concentrated mineral and age-worthy wines.
But as the summer approached and the rains continued, we feared another 1998, a year when three weeks of rain brought botrytis in the midst of a warm summer. The extremely cool summer weather ended up saving us in two very specific ways: 1. Yields were 40-50% down throughout Mendoza and the widely spread fruit were thus protected from disease 2. The cool climate prevented botrytis from spreading throughout the province.
By the crucial months of February and March, the El Niño rains had slowed and the harvest continued at the usual rate. The end of harvest was declared on April 25th with the first Autumn snow. All in all, this was one of the shortest overall harvest seasons that we can remember, having started 2-3 weeks late, and ended 2 weeks early. The wines of 2016 are unusually low in alcohol (12.5 to 13.5 is the norm) and high in natural acidity. And if cool climate matters as we think it does, many areas that we generally consider too warm for the highest quality have behaved exceptionally well in the 2015-2016 season.
Zone 4 Winkler became Zone 3, Zone 3 became Zone 2 and so on. We are also surprised to see absolutely no dilution in flavors from the increased rains. Perhaps this is due to the fact that from February to April precipitations stayed within the norm, but regardless, this year makes us question everything we have previously believed about water stress and climate change.
The key to quality this year was parcellization. Over the last decade, the Catena Zapata viticultural team hand in hand with the Catena Institute have mapped our estate vineyards into hundreds of parcels that are farmed and harvested separately. With the rains, heterogeneity increased in many places and identifying the right harvest time for an individual parcel and soil type was more crucial than ever. We will know more about ageability and quality of each region, vineyard and parcel in June and July when we get ready for blending.
NICASIA VINEYARD, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 3593 ft elevation
Nicasia saw a mild year with cooler than normal temperatures but no decrease in yields. The Malbec from Lot 2 was a Malbec highlight for this year, with dense flavors and delicate red fruits on the nose. There was no hail or frost (common in the area) thankfully.
100% whole cluster and 90% whole berry fruit is hand-
loaded into 2000-5000 liter new French oak foudres for
a 100% barrel fermentation for a period of 17 days,
allowing seamless oak integration. The fermentation
temperature is kept low, extracting intense aromas, and
the cap management is done by hand to ensure soft,
gentle flavors and tannin extraction. Wild yeasts.
Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in barrel leaves
considerable lees and sediment.
The wine is aged in French oak barrels for 24 months, followed by 24
months of aging in bottle before release.