2012 will be remembered for its concentration and balance. Of course many of the growers are not happy because of the low yields and lesser profit – but the phenomenal quality will ultimately help our region and in the end the growers will see a benefit from increased consumer confidence in our country’s wines. We couldn’t be happier. We are looking forward to seeing how the 2012 wines will develop in barrel and in the bottle.Prepared by Dr. Laura Catena, Chief Winemaker Alejandro Vigil and Viticulturist Luis Reginato
The 2012 harvest is all about low yields and the extraordinary richness and concentration that resulted from them. Because there was very little spring-time snow in the Andes, the season started with a natural water stress situation throughout Mendoza. On the 23 of September there was a generalized severe frost that affected all the regions of Mendoza from Lujan de Cuyo to El Este and to the Uco Valley. We saw lower yields in Malbec, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Bonarda and Chardonnay because these varieties were just starting budbreak. Cabernet Sauvignon was spared because budbreak had not started yet – yields remained at a normal level for Cabernet. This frost was different from the frost of 2010, where some areas like Eugenio Bustos in the Southern Uco Valley saw their whole production wiped out. The 2010 frosts were spotty and affected only a few areas. The 2011 frost was much more generalized.
THE ZONDA WIND: On November 8th, during flowering for many vineyards and varieties, a very fierce Zonda wind hit Mendoza and San Juan and affected mostly the Malbec, Syrah and Chardonnay fruit (reducing yields further). Many roads were blocked by fallen trees, and the air was heavy as the winds picked up sand and earth. Yet again, the cabernet sauvignon was generally spared because flowering had not yet started.
OTHER CLIMATIC FACTS: Because there was a heat wave at the beginning of January, we were expecting the harvest for the reds to happen 10 days early. But then it really cooled off in the late summer-early autumn months of February, March and April, and there were no botrytis-causing rains. So finally, the harvest ended up happening at the normal time in most vineyards.
ALMOST NO HAIL To add to our luck, there was almost no hail, just a little bit in Medrano, Junin and San Juan. None of the Catena Zapata vineyards in Mendoza were affected.
A YEAR OF PERFECT NATURAL ACIDITY Because of the cool weather in February, March and April and the general dryness of the vintage (there was little snow and little rain) the nights were cooler than most other years and natural acid retention was phenomenal throughout the province. In the 2012 juice we have the perfect combination of not-too-high alcohol (because of the cool feb-april), high natural acidity and concentrated anthocyanins (color) and tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon – the latest ripener – was in absolutely perfect condition, with no rot, beautiful concentration and flavors (none of the over-ripe stuff) and optimal natural acidity.
THE RESULTS: Yields for Malbec were 10-50% down throughout the province. In the Catena Zapata Malbec vineyards, yields were down between 20 and 50% - lowest in our vineyards in Altamira (Nicasia Vineyard). We farm our vineyards for low yields already, so the effects were dramatic. If ever somebody had doubts that yields matter for quality, this year definitely proves that they do, and that low yields are essential if one is making wines of concentration and balance. You should see the incredibly dark color – inky – of the Malbecs, the density and richness of tannins, the depth of the wines. Everything was good this year – even varieties like Bonarda and Syrah that often vary from year to year, had remarkable concentration.
Because the water source for this vineyard is from the highest part of the Andes mountains, there was plenty of snow, and we did not have water shortages during winter and spring. There was very little rain during the summer, so the plants were very healthy and the night-day temperature differential was particularly pronounced. Because the Zonda wind blew in the middle of flowering, the Chardonnay yields in this vineyard were significantly reduced - yields were as low as 1-1.5 tons per acre depending on the lot. Malbec yields were also lower than usual. Overall: extraordinary quality in 2012.ANGÉLICA VINEYARD: Malbec - Lunlunta, Maipú, Mendoza, 3018 ft elevation
This vineyard had a slightly different behavior than the rest of our vineyards. It was not affected by the September frost and when the Zonda wind struck, budbreak had already finished so production was not significantly affected. Harvest occured two weeks earlier than usual. As always, the historic lots 18 and 20 gave the best quality, with beautiful dark color and smooth, sweet tasting tannins.
After several years of either frost or hail in the Domingo Vineyard, we had a healthy year for both Chardonnay (the frost helped reduce yields making green harvest unnecessary) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both varieties gave perfectly balanced fruit with bright acidity and intense flavors.NICASIA VINEYARD: Malbec - Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 3593 ft elevation
As always, this precious vineyard excelled in 2012. Yields were down 40% because of the combined effect of frost and Zonda winds. A beautiful year for Nicasia: rich color, intense black fruit aromas, optimal acidity and balance.ANGÉLICA SUR VINEYARD: Malbec and Cabernet Franc - El Cepillo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 3567 ft elevation
Last year, we lost almost 100% of the production in this vineyard. This year yields were down like everywhere else in Mendoza, and the fruit ripened perfectly, with natural low yields and beautiful balance. Alejandro Vigil and my father won't stop talking about the Cabernet Franc from this vineyard which will go into Angelica Zapata.