Sebastián Zuccardi likes to dig holes.
He believes wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery, and wants to know what he’s getting into, so to speak.
Within Argentina’s province of Mendoza are some of the globe’s most blessed vineyards; northwest of Buenos Aires and seated against the majestic snow-capped Andes Mountains, the region boasts many of the highest vineyards in the world. “I believe wine is people and place,” Sebastián shares during a recent visit to Vancouver. His words ring true.
Argentina has a culture of wine; its abundance of Spanish and Italian immigrants nurtured it, bringing vines and planting small family vineyards for personal or community consumption. Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s that the country began exporting its wine, and growing demand soon created a need for more vineyards.
As the third generation of the pioneering Familia Zuccardi winemaking legacy, Sebastián has eagerly embraced his birthright. His grandfather, Alberto, was an engineer who planted a vineyard in Maipú (a region of Mendoza) in the early 1960s. He wanted to show local grape-growers a method of irrigation he had been experimenting with for over a decade. As he became more fascinated with viticulture, he began making wines under the brand Santa Julia (named after his granddaughter: Sebastián’s sister, Julia).
His son, José Alberto (Sebastián’s father), worked alongside him; export was his decree. It was wise thinking, as the Zuccardi family was at the forefront of a new era—one that catapulted the Argentine wine industry into today’s prominence.
Sebastián joined his father and grandfather in 2009; by looking upward, toward the jaggedly carved Andes, he unearthed a way to bring a new calibre of wines into the family fold. Near the western border of Mendoza, the higher-altitude Uco Valley splinters off into three smaller departments (Zuccardi has vineyards in each): Tupungato, Tunuyán, and San Carlos, and within those are micro-regions.
Sebastián is intimate with these special sites; he knows what is below the surface, where his vines’ roots run deep. “Ninety-nine per cent of the soils in Mendoza are alluvial, caused by melted glaciers—but they are not all the same,” he admits, explaining why he digs holes in his vineyards. The varieties he plants correlate to how much alluvial (rolled stone) rock is in a vineyard, and how deep those stones go.
“The Andes give water, weather, and soil. It is a high-altitude desert with great luminosity,” Sebastián continues, describing why the Uco Valley is such a special place to make wine. “The light we have is pure, we have very dry air, and we are closer to the sun. The next thing the mountain gives us is water—a reason people are planting higher and higher.”
Certainly there is purity to the wines he makes under the Familia Zuccardi umbrella, in part because of the many concrete tanks he has designed and commissioned for a new stunning winery in Altamira, in San Carlos, that was completed in 2016. Shunning stainless steel, Sebastián decided the wine needed to be made in the same environment that the grapes were grown in: “The concrete is made from rocks from our vineyard, and water from the Andes.”
His Zuccardi Q Chardonnay leads with notes of browned butter and toasted spice, and the palate is pristine yet creamy. The premium Fósil Chardonnay has even more levity and precision; crisp, yellow fruits and honeyed aromas lead to distinct mineral and saline flavours in the mouth. In a similar vein, the Zuccardi Q Malbec is fresh and fruity on the nose but is grounded by herbal and spicy characters. Then there is the José Zuccardi Malbec (formerly called Zeta), which offers notes of carob and red currants with an undercurrent of purple flowers; but it’s the dry and crackling texture that really stands out. And finally, smoked cherries, dried violets, and brown spice notes best express the silky Tito Zuccardi Paraje Altamira (a blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and ancellota). A selection of Familia Zuccardi wines will be served at various events during the 2019 Vancouver International Wine Festival, running February 23 to March 3. José Alberto will attend the tastings, pouring Zuccardi Q Chardonnay, Zuccardi Q Malbec, José Zuccardi Malbec, and Tito Zuccardi Paraje Altamira.
Evidently, the familial bond with land and craft is strong, and remains as such with the company’s third generation. “My passion is wine,” Sebastián affirms. “It is my life.” It is a devotion that can be tasted, and should be.
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