In a few years, San Patricio del Chañar, small town traditionally represented by fruit farms, managed to be famous as epicentre of a grape growing area whose products have just acquired international fame because of their quality. The origin of the wine cellars is very different from those founded by wine pioneers of Cuyo (Mendoza & San Juan). Here, there was a big investment and clear purposes: to produce wines of the best level, capable to compete in the most demanding circuits of oenologists in the world. In fact, wines from some of these cellars have obtained important prizes in international contests of wines.
If you are coming to Neuquen by 7 route, 55 Km before arriving at the capital city is worth while to stop to know closely these enterprises which conjugate technological advances with the ancient secrets of the elaboration of a “good wine”. Most of the cellars offer guided visits in their installations, and some of them even have excellent restaurants.
The semiarid climate, the high exposure to sun’s rays and the stony soils of this zone, configure a special environment to achieve excellent varietals: Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonay and Sauvignon blanc. The vineyards are located along the terraces of Neuquen river, and the cellars have been built specially (in cases subterranean) to reach the proper humidity and temperature conditions.
The guided visits are free, but having dinner at one of the elegant restaurants also includes a tour through the elaboration process. We had the opportunity to carry out one of them. At the beginning, the guide conducted us towards a huge building full of tall steel tanks. Everyone is connected to a net of pipes and we could overcome them by fenced bridges. Technical men and employees wearing immaculate working coats were checking electronic indicators and taking notes. It seemed most a Nasa laboratory than a wine cellar! Arriving at a big window that looks towards the vineyards, it was explained to us the type of grapes which are produced, the cares and tasks at vintage time in March, and the process of selection according to the wine that should be done (white or red). At the same time, we observed the machine which perform the grinding (no, it’s no longer done with the feet!) and how the grape juice passes to the big tanks where will be produced the alcoholic fermentation. In the subsoil we found French oak tree barrels (these made us feel as in a traditional wine cellar…) where the wine will finish to acquire its fragrance, body and flavour. Finishing the visit, in a special sector we were invited to taste one of the varieties produced. The wine cellars, from time to time organize special events of tasting, where experts about the subject conduct and teach on the form to appreciate the wine, from its colour and fragrance to the bouquet, flavour and palate persistence. In those occasions, you surely will be able to taste first the whites and then the red ones, in order to compare and distinguish. An interesting art to cultivate, indeed, since, as remarkable oenologists say, the more is appreciated and savoured, less quantity will be drunk. Cheers!