Wineries of Patagonia
When foreigners think of Patagonia, their first thoughts are usually of a remote region in the antipodes, where the winds blow and the snow falls. Few think of grapes and even fewer of wine grapes, but in reality, grapes grow as far south as Punta Arenas (Chile), Estancia Sara (in Argentine Tierra del Fuego), and even the Falkland Islands.
That’s a little misleading, because in all of these destinations the vines grow indoors, as they do in the winter garden at Punta Arenas’s Hotel José Nogueira, and produce table grapes. Nevertheless, wine grapes have grown, with commercial success, for more than a century in Argentine Patagonia — Bodega Humberto Canale, half an hour east of the city of Neuquén, celebrated its centennial in 2009.
In fact, the Patagonian wine industry is expanding rapidly with the new San Patricio del Chañar district, less than an hour northwest of Neuquén. Having made the New York Times list of “31 Places to Go in 2010,” Chañar figures to grab even more attention in the coming years, thanks to wineries such as Bodega del Fin del Mundo, Bodega NQN, and Bodega Familiar Schroeder.
Neuquén Province is also a hotbed for field-based paleontology research and especially dinosaur discoveries, so some visitors might want to combine the two activities.
Bodega Humberto Canale
In both Neuquén and Río Negro Provinces, the upper Río Negro Valley is becoming a trendy zone of boutique wineries, but the Canale winery is no newcomer. In anticipation of its centennial, the family-owned enterprise sold off outside interests to concentrate on its 150 hectares of vineyards and 350 more of orchards.
Canale is a sizable winery, producing more than 1 million bottles per annum of reds from cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, malbec, and cabernet franc, and whites from sauvignon blanc, semillón, torrontés, and viognier grapes. In addition, it makes blends of some of its reds.
Open for free tours, which can be slow-paced when crowds are large, Canale has a small but well-presented wine museum that also serves as a tasting room. It’s remodeling older parts of the winery for larger events and groups to help promote its “Patagonian” wines.
About eight kilometers west of the city of General Roca and 29 kilometers east of Neuquén via RN 22, Bodega Humberto Canale (Chacra 186, General Roca, tel. 02941/43-0415, www.bodegahcanale.com) offers Spanish-only tours at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and Saturday. Public transportation is frequent to General Roca, but the winery itself is about three kilometers south of the highway junction (which is opposite a conspicuous cement factory).
Bodega del Fin del Mundo
Surrounded by irrigated fields in rocky to sandy soils, in an area that gets little rain, Fin del Mundo is a modern industrial-style winery whose vineyards depend on drip irrigation from the Río Neuquén; trellised vines help prevent wind erosion. Relying on stainless steel tanks for maceration and fermentation, and oaken casks for aging, it produces about 85 percent reds (mostly malbec, with some blends) and 15 percent whites (including a sparkling white and Late Harvest Semillón). The harvest starts in February and ends by mid-April.
Tours, which include a free tasting, take place 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday and holidays. Bodega del Fin del Mundo (RP 8 Km 9, San Patricio de Chañar, tel. 0299/15-580-0414, www.bodegadelfindelmundo.com) is a short distance north of RP 7, the main highway through the Chañar district. Wines are for sale onsite.
Though its ecology resembles that of Fin del Mundo, NQN is a smaller bodega with about 135 hectares under cultivation, nearly half of those in malbec. Merlot comprises nearly a quarter, with the rest devoted to cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay. Built into a banked hillside, the winery itself is modern and handsome.
Visits to NQN begin with an overview through a model of the bodega, followed by a walk through the platform above the stainless steel tanks to the reception area for the grapes, followed by a descent into the cellars and a view of the oaken barrels. There, a tasting is free of charge.
Bodega NQN (RP 7, Picada 15, tel. 0299/489-7500, www.bodeganqn.com.ar) is open for hourly guided tours 10 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. weekends. Its Malma Resto Bar (tel. 0299/489-7600, reservas [at] bodeganqn [dot] com [dot] ar) is open for lunch daily with a fixed-price menu and an à la carte menu, but on weekends it’s à la carte only. The food tends toward sophisticated versions of Patagonian standards, such as lamb, along with pork, pastas, and trout — accompanied, of course, by its own wines.
Bodega Famila Schroeder
The most easterly of Chañar’s wineries, Schroeder is more of a boutique locale that boasts something no other winery can — an in situ fossil of the herbivorous Aeololsaurus reonegrinus, a 12-meter, Upper Cretaceous dinosaur uncovered during construction excavations and incorporated into the cellars. That, in fact, led Schroeder to apply the name Saurus to one of its lines, which includes varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, malbec, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
The tour itself starts in vineyards and continues within, stopping first at the reception area (where an elevated walkway permits an aerial view of the facilities, even during harvest time, without getting in the way of operations). It continues to the cellars and the visitors center, where tasting takes place.
Tours of Famila Schroeder (RP 7, Picada 7, tel. 0299/489-9600, www.familiaschroeder.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. weekends), cost US$4, which can be applied to purchases of wine. Its restaurant, Saurus, (tel. 0299/15-409-1754), comparable to NQN’s, is open noon–4 p.m. daily.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition