Zuccardi Family Bodega is located in Mendoza Province, Argentina. Mendoza was the perfect place to spend the day learning about the wine industry, as it the biggest wine producing region in the country. As a bonus, we took an impromptu tour of Zuccardi’s olive oil production facilities, as well. Mendoza offers near-perfect conditions for growing grapes (and olives). With an average of 300 days of sun, the area only receives about an inch and a half of rain per year, but snowmelt from the nearby Andes provides ample water for irrigation. Zuccardi is the largest family-owned winery and vineyard in the country. Three generations are currently working within the enterprise.
Zuccardi bottles more than 30 million bottles per year and cultivates 1,000 hectares of grapes. The family grows 55 varieties and vines are planted at elevations ranging from 650 to 1,500 meters. A line of fine wines is labeled with the family name, while a line of table wines is marketed under the label Santa Julio. The harvest begins in January and runs through March. In a highly mechanized world, these grapes – enough for 30,000,000 bottles – are picked by hand. Nearly 700 fulltime employees and 400 seasonal workers are needed to keep the wine flowing. In fact, this time of year, it’s a 24/7 operation. Grapes are picked, processed by hand and through mechanical means and then fermented in stainless or concrete tanks. Wines can be aged in tanks, oak barrels or a combination thereof. The more complex wines take more time, and most oaked wines are aged for 4-24 months.
Sometimes You Need to Look Back to Move Forward
The Zuccardi family ethos is innovation, and they are constantly trying to find the next variety, blend or trend that will meet the need of their Argentine customers and growing export market. Varieties from around the world are planted to evaluate and – if successful – complement traditional offerings. Innovation extends beyond the fields and into the winemaking rooms. In the 1930s and 40s, French winemakers aged their wine in large concrete tanks. The design provided more surface area and allowed for more tannins and flavors to be pulled, making more complex wines. Now, 80 years later, the technology is making a comeback. The design is similar, but the tanks are epoxy lined. On the way to look at the olive oil enterprise we saw another method making a comeback – the kitchen garden. In addition to wine and olive oil, the family operates two restaurants. Fresh produce from a small garden is used in both restaurants. Old becomes new.
In 2004 the family began making olive oil. They have 400 hectares of olive trees and make several varieties of olive oil. Some trees in production are 60 years old. The olive harvest begins in April and ends in June. Interesting fact, green and black olives are the same; color just depends on how ripe the olives are when harvested. 90% of the olives are picked by hand. Once picked, they are sorted, macerated and centrifuged to collect the oil. It takes eight kilograms of olives to make one liter of oil. Unlike many wines, which get finer with age, time is the enemy of olive oil. Oils are best enjoyed the year they are produced. In ten short years the Zuccardis have become one of the largest olive oil producers in the country, producing nearly 300,000 liters last year.
It’s A Small World
Our group – eleven Americans and one Argentine tour guide – spent the day with a young Englishman learning about traditionally European processes taking place in South America. The winery uses expertise from California, equipment from France, and grape varieties from Spain and Italy. New barrels arrive from France and from Tennessee. Their wines are exported to more than 40 countries. It really is a small world, and in-person visits like this reinforce the fact that the world is one economy. We face many of the same challenges and opportunities as our friends in Argentina. For example, much the same as California, land prices and water rights are becoming a challenge in Mendoza. There is much to learn from each other and ample opportunity to play to our respective competitive strengths. So, go on, get out and see the world…and stop to enjoy some wine and olive oil along the way!