Chandon: Altitude makes all the difference in Argentine sparkling wine

Senior winemaker at Chandon Argentina, Gustavo Sanchez, believes high altitude vineyards (1,500 metres and above) have the potential to produce “incredible” sparkling wines with greater balance than those made at lower sites.

Gustavo Sanchez. Image:

Speaking to the drinks business at the producer’s winery in Luján de Cuyo, Sanchez revealed how Chandon has invested in high altitude sites in the belief that altitude has the “most impact” on its sparkling wines.

“In the near future we’re going to have incredible wines coming out of vineyards above 1,500 metres,” he said. “I don’t know if other producers are as conscious of the difference high altitude makes.”

The LVMH subsidiary, which was founded in 1959, started out with vineyards at 1,000m – a height that would be considered extreme in most other wine producing countries. In Argentina, however, vineyards that produce sparkling wine are usually planted at altitudes of 600m and above.

In 1990, Chandon planted in the Gualtallary region of Tupungato in the Uco Valley at a height of 1,250m. In 2005, it went higher, planting in El Peral also in Tupungato at a height of 1,500m. Finally, in 2015, it planted again in Gualtallary, but this time at a height of 1,625m.

Using the Winkler Index of heat summation, these sites range from region 4 to region 1, the equivalent of north Africa versus Champagne.

“In a one hour drive you can go from the north African climate to that of Champagne,” Sanchez said. “This offers the possibility to produce many different styles of sparkling wine with the temperature dropping 0.8 degrees for each 100m you climb.

“Altitude provides a cushion against global warming as nowadays we can have very extreme weather here. We’re working at the limit (of altitude) and I believe we have plenty of time to work vines up there.

“In Mendoza there is a lot of potassium in the soils and water which often warrants tartaric acid adjustments in the wine to correct the pH. But when you go up in altitude you don’t need to do this. In our vineyards at 1,200m and above, we’re not adding any tartaric acid.

“At over 1,600m we have to do virtually 100% malolactic and have total acidity of 13-14g/l and a pH lower than 3. Malic acid achieved is between 7 and 8 g/l.”

A selection of bottles in the Chandon range…

Commenting on the differences between making sparkling wines in Argentina, compared to traditional production areas in Europe, Sanchez said that a more stable climate resulted in vintages being made “every single year”. However he noted that many Argentine producers remain reluctant to put the vintage date on labels.

“Year-to-year conditions are completely stable, though we do have some irregular years,” he said. “In 1998, for example, it was a very wet el niño year and a bit of a disaster. But in general, vintages are very stable which gives us the possibility to produce vertical vintages. We have a vintage every single year, it’s very rare not to have one.”

Chandon controls around 800 hectares of Chardonnay and 400 hectares of Pinot Noir in Mendoza. It owns 400 hectares of its own vines and buys in grapes from another 800 hectares

For its vineyards at 1,200m and above, it only uses the traditional method and ages its wines for between 18 months and five years on their lees.

The producer, one of six such Chandons based around the world, has a 90% share of the Argentine sparkling market and makes wine using both the Charmat and traditional method.

This month it announced Diego Ribbert as its new chef de cave, who takes over from Onofre Arcos. Among its new product launches is Chandon Aperitif, released two months ago. The hybrid bittersweet sparkler combines a base wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sémillon with oranges that have been macerated in spices.

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