The grapes have been picked and Argentina is able to file another successful harvest for 2022, to match the previous four years. However producers are reporting that 2022 was the most singular of recent vintages, with each region experiencing its own challenges.
‘The 2021-2022 season reminds me of a good Hollywood movie,’ said Martín Kaiser, viticulturist at Doña Paula in Mendoza. ‘It certainly kept us entertained. Our hearts were in our mouths all the way through, but it had a great ending.’ Looking back over the year, it’s easy to see what Kaiser is talking about.
The season began with a cool, dry spring with low rates of snowfall. This resulted in less water flowing down to a province already suffering from severe water shortages, a not inconsequential consideration for vineyards that depend on irrigation.
But more drama was to come. Five frosts were recorded between October and November, some of them severe. These happened in the Uco Valley, the lower areas of Luján de Cuyo and the east of Mendoza, where most of Argentina’s large-volume winery operations are located.
‘We had a very dry winter and spring with much less dew, as well as very unusual late frosts,’ noted Gabriela García, winemaker at Bodegas Salentein in Mendoza. Although the damage didn’t become apparent immediately, following budding the bunches and ripening speeds were uneven. This resulted in a hit to yields of as much as 25% in some areas and 10% across the province on average.
Rain creates risks
The rain arrived at the end of spring, between December and February. Although it fell within historic parameters in terms of quantity, it was concentrated into a few weeks, meaning that wineries hurried to bring in their white grapes to avoid risking their quality.
‘This year, the whites were the big challenge. But if the harvest was done well, they achieved good quality and fresher wines, albeit in lower volumes,’ said Agustina Hanna, head winemaker at Bodega Ruca Malen.
‘March arrived with rains that slowed down the reds,’ said Germán Di Césare, head winemaker at Trivento Wines. ‘But the second half of the month was dry and cool – as was April – and that allowed us to harvest at a more relaxed pace. Ripening occurred gradually and we were able to bring the reds to the point we wanted,’ he added.
A spurt in sugar concentration, combined with ideal levels of acidity and pH, plus cool weather that helped with aromatic concentration. ‘We got balanced must, with moderate alcohol, good phenolic development, concentration and plenty of colour,’ comments Daniel Pi at Bemberg Estate. ‘We’ll be seeing wines with excellent ageing potential,’ he predicted.
But the rollercoaster of a season had one last twist in store when right at the end of March, a frost – the earliest in living memory – hit several vineyards in the Uco Valley and parts of Luján de Cuyo. It caused considerable damage, although fortunately, by then, about 90% of the grapes were in the wineries. However a final effort was required to rescue those grapes that remained on the vine.
‘There’s no doubt that it was a very unusual harvest,’ said Alejandro Vigil, President of Wines of Argentina and chief winemaker at Catena Zapata. ‘But the fact is that it was one of the best I’ve seen in terms of quality. I’m sure we’ll remember it as one of the best of recent years.’
When it comes to particular grapes, in Mendoza the red varieties to watch out for are Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Meanwhile for the whites the star is generally agreed to be Chardonnay.
In San Juan, Argentina’s second-largest wine producing province, the harvest went well in spite of several potentially serious issues with the weather. Paula González, winemaker at Pyros Wines explained: ‘Climatically, the 2021-2022 season was about average. We were hit by three significant frosts before budding and some powerful hailstorms while the fruit was still green, but quality wasn’t affected.’
In the Pedernal Valley especially, the resulting grapes show good balance, promising fresh, elegant wines with the traditional character of the high-altitude site.
In northwest Argentina – where the greatest number of vineyards growing above an altitude of 1,670m above sea level are to be found – the harvest went very well. ‘In the Calchaquí Valleys, the harvest was slightly delayed, allowing us to work in a relaxed manner and obtain fruit with very good freshness and aromatic expression,’ reported Alejandro Pepa, the winemaker at El Esteco.
This was thanks to a very cool, dry winter, followed by a healthy spring with no frosts or hailstorms, allowing the fruit to develop properly. The spring rains fell within the historic average and the summer had a warm but fairly wet beginning that slowed down ripening and favoured concentration.
The white grapes – mainly Torrontés and Sauvignon Blanc – are presenting an attractive, vibrant acidity and aromatic depth. While the reds – especially Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Cabernet Franc – have developed good colour and concentration, plus greater freshness, thanks to the cooler than usual temperatures.
Meanwhile, in Patagonia it was an unusual season experienced differently in Río Negro and Neuquén. Winemaker Hans Vinding Diers from Bodega Noemía reports: ‘In Río Negro we’re very happy with the 2022 harvest, although there were a couple of late frosts that hit some of the vineyards. Most important was the warm spring, with intense winds, followed by a summer when the days were hot but nights cool, which suited the fruit very well.’
The March rains brought down temperatures, allowing each varietal to ripen at its accustomed pace. Throughout the province, the news is good in terms of quality and quantity. ‘We’re going to get some fantastic reds,’ concludes Vinding Diers.
In San Patricio del Chañar, Neuquén, two late frosts on 5 October and 16 November hit yields by as much as 20%. After that, the harvest went well. ‘We had a lot of wind, which helped the vines to stay healthy, and a warm summer that allowed us to harvest quality grapes in spite of the drop in yield. The Merlot and Malbec stand out,’ said Ricardo Galante, winemaker at Bodega del Fin del Mundo.