Bodegas Otronia – Winemaking at the End of the World

You could almost not find a harder place to grow grapes than Patagonia, on the southern tip of Argentina. Three to four degrees cooler than the already frosty Uco Valley, with little rain and prevailing winds often over one hundred Kilometres per hour. Planting vines and making wines at the base of South American is not for the faint hearted.

However, when you are Alejandro Bulgheroni, anything is possible. In a relatively short period of time he has invested over a billion dollars in the international wine industry, from his home in Argentina through to Uruguay, Tuscany, the Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and the Barossa Valley too with the impressive Alkina Wine Estate. All the while he has been helped by well-known Italian wine consultant Alberto Antonini, who has also worked on a range of other projects in Australia. If there is a team who has the will, skill and means to crack Patagonia as a fine wine region, it is Bulgheroni and Antonini.

So far fifty hectares of vineyards have been planted in fifty blocks since 2010. And anyone familiar with the Alkina project will not be surprised as to the meticulous planning that has gone before it. The whole site has been prodded and poked – hundreds of soil samples taken to get a full understanding of what lies beneath so that wine quality can be maximised and cross referenced against soil types. But Patatgonia is also a very difficult climate and the results were never guaranteed.

“Vines are surviving in very, very challenging conditions” according to the winemaker in charge of Otronia, Juan Pablo Murgia. The vineyards are the furthest south of more than a few acres in size on the planet, and 100km lower than Southern New Zealand. Icy winds regularly batter the vineyards, which could not survive without various wind breaks helping to protect them. Three hundred thousand trees have been planted combined with hundreds of nets purely for wine protection. Growing vines in Patagonia is clearly an extreme sport. For comparison, the average annual temperature at Otronia is 11 degrees, similar to Champagne.

The resulting vines are half the size of others of a similar age growing in other parts of Argentina, their growth rate stunted by the harsh conditions. Grapegrowing is in fact only possible thanks to the very long sunlight hours which extend to 11pm in the middle of summer. But there are advantages too. The dry, windy conditions with practically no humidity, produce incredibly thick grape skins, and little juice, helping to craft wines with incredible depth of flavour. 

For such a dry and cool region, the soils are actually relatively fertile with a mix of sand, river stones, clays and alluvial rocks from the nearby Andes. And there are already good results with Chardonnay, which is well matched to sandy soils, while Pinot Noir seems better suited to clay, which provides a more dependable water supply. With little or no humidity there is also hardly any need for fungal sprays allowing the vineyards to be treated gently and organically. Some manure is added for nutrients, and the soils are ripped to break them up and assist the flow of oxygen and in turn improve the health of microbes in the soil. By and large, this is grapegrowing in its most natural form.

You could almost predict which varieties would be chosen for Otronia. A very cool climate sees it best suited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both still and sparkling, and these make up much of the plantings. But Otronia has also moved left of field, into experimental varieties for such a cool region. For white varieties, there is Pinot Grigio and Gerwurztraminer, which are used for the 45° Rugientes Corte de Blancas blended white. And for reds there are plantings of Merlot (owner Alejandro Bulgheroni is a big fan of Bordeaux) and Malbec – we are in Argentina of course. It will be interesting to see how these wines fare in the long term although winemaker Juan Pablo is happy with the progress so far.

Unsurprisingly, for wines grown in such unique conditions, they are unusual expressions of each grape variety. The Chardonnay has a blend of explosive acidity and pungent fruits sometimes seen in New Zealand while the Pinots have a delicious combination of savoury and sweet fruits with tremendous delicacy. They are both particularly impressive considering the vine age and the mind boggles about where these wines will land in the coming decades.

Bodegas Otronia 45° Rugientes Corte de Blancas 2018
94 Points – Drink 2021 – 2024

A multilayered, bright and fresh wine with exceptional purity of lychee, citrus and just ripe pear fruits in an elegant and restrained style. The palate continues on the same theme – dry, fine and detailed – subtly fragrant fruits supported by spicy older oak which adds backbone as does refreshing acidity before a long and saline finish. Super food wine for delicate seafood dishes.

Bodegas Otronia 45° Rugientes Pinot Noir 2018
93 Points – Drink 2021 – 2026

Bright mid cherry in colour, this is a deliciously sophisticated Pinot style that betrays the icy Patagonian climate thanks to its spicy, truffle and dark berry scented fruit aromas followed by a light-weight, acid-driven palate of spicy dark berries with a distinct wintergreen accent. Stalky notes add an autumnal edge before a finely-framed and silky finish. 

Bodegas Otronia Block 3 and 6 Chardonnay 2017
96 Points – Drink 2022 – 2028

Bright mid straw with a golden tinge, this wine jumps from the glass with pungent melon, citrus, mango and blossom fruits that are powerful and precise. The palate then displays a compact and tight core of fruit beautifully intertwined with superb oak. Firm acidity gives impact which helps to drive a long and seamless finish. It feels a bit unevovled at the moment and will be better and more complete with a couple more years under its belt.

Bodegas Otronia Block 1 Pinot Noir 2017
97 Points – Drink 2021 – 2030

A haunting Pinot that bodes very well for Patagonia as a premium wine growing region. Bright mid cherry in colour, there is delicious purity of red raspberry fruits, lifted by stalky spice, rose petals and damp earth aromas well integrated with French oak. The palate is pure silk in texture while retaining impressive fruit concentration with flavours more in the earth, gravel and meaty spectrum as it effortlessly glides to a sustained finish supported by satin tannins. Very impressive. 

This 100% independent content was published with support from the winery.



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