In a region known for being “too cold, too far south, too windy,” and overall unfavorable for winemaking, owner Alejandro Bulgheroni and winemaker Juan Pablo Murgia have achieved what was once thought to be impossible, creating world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the world’s southernmost vineyard. More than 1,200 miles south of Mendoza, Argentina’s winemaking capital, Bulgheroni challenged Murgia and his team to cultivate grapevines in an area of Patagonia where none had ever been planted before, and the result is outstanding.
Bulgheroni developed an unused piece of family property on the shores of Lake Musters in Sarmiento in the province of Chubut, which sits at Parallel 45. Explaining that the winery’s name, Otronia, comes from the ancient Tehuelche people’s name for the lake, Otron, Murgia calls this region “the edge of possibility.” We hear about out-of-season frosts that last a day or two in what are considered cold-weather French wine regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, but frost is a way of life in Chubut. Murgia utilizes large scale tree plantings as well as high tech wind breaks around and within the vineyards. “We know we are going to have frosts throughout the season, and our vineyards are specially designed to live with that,” he says. “Otronia is a very special place, and these conditions inspire us to make wines that reflect the essence of Sarmiento.” The constant wind and naturally dry climate are inhospitable to many of the pests that plague vineyards around the world, making this a haven for disease-free organic viticulture. Year-round cold temperatures create the perfect conditions for wines with intense acidity that let the varietal character shine through.
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Otronia’s 123 acres of certified organic vines are home to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Torrontés, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Malbec, and Merlot. Despite the low temperatures, the intensity of sunlight in this part of the world aids in full ripeness that does not overpower the wine’s sense of equilibrium. “Cold weather brings finesse, elegance, and intense acidity with balance,” Murgia tells Robb Report, “Wind influences the skin’s thickness by increasing it, which translates into a high but balanced intensity. Intense sunlight turns one of the coldest terroirs in the world where maturity seems to be impossible into a great ripening terroir with grapes full of richness and flavors.”
The previous record holder for southernmost vineyard in the world was actor-turned-vigneron Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks Vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand, which sits at 45.22° South, but Otronia has bested that with a location at 45.33° South. There were no existing vineyards in the area when the Otronia team first started planting in 2010. The winery was built in 2016, and the first harvest and vintage took place the following year. Murgia is also the winemaker at Bulgheroni’s Bodega Argento in Mendoza, which is a leading Argentine winery in the production of organic and sustainable wines. While the two regions are completely different in terms of altitude, soils, and temperatures—Argento influenced by the Andes at high altitude and Otronia located on the Patagonian Steppe—Murgia believes that his work at Argento is an asset despite the disparities. “The most important background I have is the terroir-focused experience I’ve been developing for 20 years,” he says. “The philosophy of understanding the place is the most important part of terroir-driven wines, especially where the land is so powerful as in Otronia.”
We tried several Otronia wines and can assure you that the result is more than worth the difficulty in working under such harsh conditions. Otronia 2018 Blocks 3 & 6 Chardonnay has aromas of Bartlett pear, nectarine, and a hint of dried Mediterranean herbs. It is bright at first sip, offering flavors of Fuji apple, white peach, thyme, and mint leaf in a full-textured wine that offers a vivid finish.
Otronia 2019 Block 1 Pinot Noir has a bouquet of pomegranate, Mission fig, and herbs de Provence. Velvety tannins and well-integrated acidity provide a backdrop to raspberry, black cherry, crumbled sage leaf, and dried thyme flavors. A sense of smoothness and a note of freshly shaved black truffle endures on the palate. Both have a suggested retail price of $90—and both are worth it.
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