Indigo has recently started importing wines from PerSe, a personal project from Edgardo (Edy) del Popolo and David Bonomi, who are pioneering terroir driven wines in Argentina. I caught up with co-founder Edy del Popolo to learn more about the project and his thoughts on the outlook for Argentine wines.
Edy and David are trailblazers on the Argentine wine scene. They met in 1995, when they were working together at a local winery – David in the winemaking team and Edy as a viticulturalist. Today David is considered one of the most knowledgeable oenologists in the Uco Valley, with on-the-ground experience from Altamira in the south to Gualtallary in the north. He was recently named young winemaker of the year by Gaucho Restaurants, which his friends like to tease him about joking he is very well preserved for 48, and after over 30 harvests! Edy was practically born under a grapevine: his parents owned vineyards in north Mendoza, all his aunts and uncles worked at wineries, vineyards and barns were his and his cousins’ playground. “Vines and wine are part of people’s lives in Argentina, not just a job”. With this background it was almost inevitable he would go on to study oenology and agronomy at UNC in Mendoza. In 1998, when the winery he was working at was sold to the Santa Rita Estates, he became Doña Paula’s first Argentine employee, going on to oversee planting of over 15,000 hectares for them across Argentina. This allowed him to explore from north to south and to really get to know the main wine growing zones. Throughout this time he was trying piece together a puzzle of site, climate and vine, to understand how natural and man-made factors affected the finished wines, and searching for the perfect combination. “I like to discover new places and raise the bar. I like to fix new parameters, to build the next level”.
Despite all the knowledge they were gaining, they were both mainly making a commercial style of wines aimed at certain markets, not the type of wines they really enjoyed. So in 2012 Edy left Doña Paula to start an independent project with David. PerSe is a boutique project based in the Uco Valley making fine wines which express their origins as transparently as possible, wines which spontaneously express the sites they come from rather than the winemaking. Tim Atkin in his 2017 Argentina report cites terroir as being increasingly important in Argentina – In this respect Argentina is becoming more Burgundian. Greater understanding of the influence of calcium carbonate is bringing freshness to top wines.
The terroir they have chosen is Gualtallary, a subregion to the south-west of the town of Tupungato. Although terroir is a word Edy prefers not to use – “I prefer site or location, if you understand and respect a place you can enhance the character and reveal its potential and only then make fantastic wines” – Gualtallary is a zone they both know extremely well, and one with a wide range of sites and conditions. The temperatures are cool to very cool, so Edy explained they have to choose their sites carefully as only certain sites can produce grapes that fulfill their potential. They work with small plots of 0.2-0.5 hectares, often with very stony and calcareous alluvial soils. At these altitudes of around 1,500 metres, with the intensity of sunlight Edy says it is important to restrict vegetative growth, contain the vine roots and make them work hard. They prune in the goblet style with low canopies, and work with yields that are 30-40% lower than the average in the region. Conventional wisdom might say that deep roots help vines produce the most concentrated fruit, but Edy argues this doesn’t always apply. “In the end the best wine is produced through the accumulation of observations and details. Science and study are useful tools but you can’t explain wine quality only through science, you need local knowledge to be able to interpret the best potential of sites”.
In their opinion, Gualtallary is the most interesting area within the Uco Valley and possibly in all of South America, as the combination of a cool climate with the complex soils is capable of producing extraordinary wines of unmistakable personality. “The Uco Valley hasn’t always been what we know today, it has undergone almost a revolution of new vineyards, new sites, new producers, new altitudes and mostly a lot of new learning for all of us”.
There are currently two sides to PerSe: some of their grapes are purchased from growers, but they always have a personal connection – perhaps one of them originally planted the vines or provided the clone material – or they work closely with the grower. I can hear the enthusiasm in Edy’s voice when he talks about their newest development, a site they have planted themselves next to an old monastery. The land is owned by the monks but leased to Edy and David for 9,999 years so they can think of it as their own. Edy described it as a spectacular place, in his opinion unique in South America – the grapes from here will go into their La Craie cuvee and eventually into new projects.
And what of the wines? Ben describes them as ‘serious’, and perhaps not a style you’d expect from Indigo, with amazing quality for such a young project and showing balance and drinkability even at a young age. They are already gaining plaudits – Tim Atkin has rated PerSe as an Argentine ‘First Growth’ in his 2017 report. Volare del Camino and Lubileus 2014 were awarded 96 points in Wine Advocate and La Craie 2014 98 points – elegant as very few wines in Argentina are. Harmony and elegance, fine minerality, length and persistence define this amazing wine. Simply amazing!
La Craie is a field blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc, vinified reductively and with a long maceration. David believes skins and stalks give structure to the wine but if you macerate them long enough they can also act like sponges and take back some tannins. He has achieved a refined and elegant style with balanced tannins and silky texture. Iubileus, which is mostly Malbec co-fermented with some Cabernet Franc bunches, is also from a high-altitude vineyard with very poor soils. It is more extrovert than La Craie, with flowers and red fruit plus the subtle presence of Cabernet Franc. The tannins are silky and there’s great freshness. Volare del Camino is 100% Malbec from a very small parcel with lots of limestone and some granite patches. Fermented in bins, with daily punch downs and a 30-day maceration period, David and Edy call it their “essential wine”, fresh as a mist of chalk and lilies and with an unmistakable Gualtallary perfume.
I asked Edy about their winemaking influences and while his reply was not what I was expecting it makes perfect sense in the light of their vast accumulated experiences.“We are self-made! We are inspired by other regions – he mentioned Burgundy and the Northern Rhone – but mainly we identify with winemakers who think in the same way as us. Our wines won’t be the same as theirs, but we share common approaches and find inspiring connections when we spend time with such people”.
The literal translation of PerSe is ‘by or of itself’, Edy translates it as “just because”, meaning they can follow their intuition, and draw on their experience to make wines they like to drink. “Our philosophy is to be of service to the site, make wines with little intervention, which express the site without our fingerprints.”
We’ve barely mentioned the M word. Malbec has been hailed as Argentina’s signature grape, and in the context of the other quality improvements in Argentine wine since the 90s it has really put the country on consumers’ wine drinking map, but like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc there’s a risk of stereotyping Argentine wine as easy drinking and rich with ripe fruit and oak. Where does Edy see the future of Argentine wine? “This is a great moment for Argentine wine, there is a huge amount of diversity: the concentration of big wineries doesn’t worry me; it is what you expect from a thriving business. There is also a beautiful bunch of smaller growers going in a different direction, trying to reveal authenticity and putting individual Argentine regions on the map. The whole community is friendly and enjoys sharing wines and ideas.”
“In a sense we are leaving Malbec the brand behind, discovering regions in detail and working towards a set of new wine appellations. In Gualtallary for example I can recognise five subregions which produce different wines and styles. Diversity is growing and in a few years we won’t just be talking about Malbec but specific subregions such as Gualtallary-Monasterio. We’re starting to see beyond Malbec – today Argentina is making wines that are on a level with the best in the world. That didn’t happen ten years ago”.
There is a palpable enthusiasm in his words and it seems that wine journalists and critics are starting to agree. Indigo have recently taken on a number of exciting Argentine agencies which give a snapshot of this energy and diversity. If you’d like to try the PerSe wines and our other new agencies including the Altar Uco solo project by Juampi, the youngest of the Michelini brothers; Escala Humana natural wines that reflect their home region of Gualtallary; and Triangle Wines a collaboration between our very own Ben and Alvaro and Gerardo Michelini – join us at a tasting at 67 Pall Mall on Tuesday 26th September – email us for more details.