José Alberto Zuccardi runs his family business in an exemplary fashion. He welcomes visitors with his eternal smile, setting a positive vibe for the upcoming tour through his extensive winery. It must be the combination of his smile and the almost always shining Mendoza’s sun which work as a guillotine against all bad moods, aches and worries that may preoccupy one’s head.
The family business
Browsing around the winery uplifts one’s spirit even more. Seeing the family at work reminded me of how beautiful it is to see relatives working on a common goal, supporting each other and at the same time respecting the passions and talents of each member individually. That is perhaps why, the eldest son of José Alberto is involved with the wines, the younger son creates unique olive oils and the daughter manages the winery restaurant, the first of its kind in Argentina. Their common goal seems to be creating a pleasurable sensual experience for their customers. Whatever your likes or dislikes might be, you will find something appealing to your palate made by Zuccardi family – might it be wine, olive oil or a wonderful meal at the restaurant.
A bit of history
But, how did it all start?
A young engineer, Alberto Zuccardi, the father of José Alberto came to Mendoza’s Maipú province in the 1960s, where he pioneered his own irrigation system. His invention together with other factors incited a massive expansion in wine growing in the region since then.
Irrigation is crucial for the majority of agricultural products in the dessert-like climate of Mendoza. The vine plant is not an exemption. Without sophisticated water management, there would grow perhaps only the prickly cacti, and not vines with their juicy fruits – the grapes. And, without grapes, there is no wine. At least not the real one. I have tasted some strawberry, raspberry and a range of other fruit-based “wines” elsewhere. Argentina though, takes its wine seriously. Perhaps, the dominant Italian immigrants make sure that the grapes rule in their Argentine wines.
Driven by innovation
An experimental spirit is adamant at Zuccardi. The winery has its own premisses dedicated to trying new winemaking techniques, tweaking the old ones and blending locally so far underestimated varieties. The innovative genes came from Alberto Zuccardi, the father of José Alberto, whose credentials I mentioned above.
At Zuccardi today, they have launched a range of wines under the “Innovación” label. As its name reveals, these are not typical wines for Argentina, at least they were not, until Zuccardi brought them to life. They are, surely, interesting to try.
The winery & vineyards
Today, the Zuccardi family has vineyards in various provinces in Mendoza. The highest, and for many Argentine viticulturists the most treasured, is in Altamira by the slopes of the Andes mountains. The soils are different in each area. This picture tells it all…
The diversity of soils is embodied in the wines produced. There are four ranges so far:
Santa Julia – named after José Alberto’s only daughter Julia
Fuzion – trendy and contemporary trying to mirror the spirit of Argentine people
Zuccardi – the top line with the first premium-quality Tempranillo in Argentina called “Q”; the tip of the quality-moulded iceberg is “Z” wine
Malamado – a range of fortified wines, popular as a base for various cocktails
The number of wines produced in the above four lines is so extensive that I would have to dedicate a magazine issue to them. The winery’s website explains the wines well in detail, so for these curious just click.
As in many parts of Mendoza though the vines and especially the grapes are threatened by the mighty hail. The hail storms can destroy the entire vintage, therefore many winery owners protect the plants by nets above them. Nothing attractive, but it saves lives … like a helmet worn on a bicycle.
Events & art
Every year, the family organises a big tasting event at the winery’s premisses. The ‘Degustación Annual’ takes place in late November and brings together the wine and food lovers from all corners of Mendoza as well as the lucky foreigners visiting Argentina at the date of the tasting. Performances, local cuisine, and of course tasting of the Santa Julia wines makes for a perfect day in the countryside.
Each year, the event is anchored with artistic placards, unique for each occasion as the topic of the day varies from year to year. Theatre was one of the recent endeavors, so actors were cheering up the wine-loving degustateurs on the day.
The family’s passion for art is evident. An ongoing exhibition of local art-works at the winery is another example of their penchant for creativity. Recently, they even came with “Consecha de Artistas“wine range, with labels, like the legendary Mouton Rotshields, designed by artists.
Set in the middle of the vineyards, the winery restaurant can host a romantic luncheon for a couple, a meditating séance for a nature lover or an exciting meet-up with wine enthusiasts and friends. There is a space for everyone. My favorite is the outside patio. The vine pergolas hanging over my head were enough to keep me there for hours – what an ambiance! The food might exceed ones expectations of a winery lunch. I am not exaggerating when saying that it was the best meal we had in Argentina during our trip. Forget the fancy restaurants in Mendoza city.
Starting with the fresh bread and the mouth-watering range of single-varietal olive oils developed by José Alberto’s youngest son Miguel equaling a high-dining experience. I loved the local varietal Arauco with its spicy finish the most. The empanadas (typical Argentine pastry filled either with meat, cheese or vegetables) are delicious and the assado (Argentine style of grilled meet, including their famous beef) made me think of renting a belly from a big person, how great it was! Luckily, we had plenty of wine, especially the fruity and full Malbec and locally second most popular red variety Bonarda, even though austere, it was nice with food.
The three generations of effort by the Zuccardi family has surely bore a variety of fruits. From grapes, through olives to successful restaurant. Moreover, in 2007 Mr. Zuccardi was recognized as one of the five most influential personalities in Argentina from the UK based Decanter magazine. That is a great news – the person with an ever-present smile on his face is the right kind of influence I wish to be affected by.