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A conversation with Piero Incisa della Rocchetta the winemaker and founder of Chacra is a philosophical and spiritual experience, much like the wines themselves. The grandson of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, creator of Sassacaia, Piero felt that the confines of history and tradition would not allow him to create the wine he really wanted, so he picked up and moved to Patagonia, Argentina. In this river basin of the Río Negro, the winds are strong, the luminosity is high, and the humidity and disease pressure are very low: an ideal combination for organic and biodynamic farming.
Founded in 2003, Chacra began with the revitalization of ungrafted Pinot Noir vines planted as early as 1932, though there is a range of ages as various vines were replaced over the years. Inspired by the work of his grandfather, the vines at Chacra have been farmed without synthetic chemicals since he arrived, with the goal of creating a complete, biodiverse ecosystem where the soil and vines could thrive. Today the estate has achieved certification as organic and biodynamic. Being in tune with the vineyard allows Piero and the team at Chacra to make regular adjustments to both the farming and vinification. During our discussion he recounted to me a discovery. A tank of wine made from the vines closest to their beehive consistently showed the strongest, most stable yeast population and was able to ferment without intervention. This discovery is what led to creation of the Chacra apiary; beehives strategically placed throughout the vines.
These bees, and the surrounding wildlife, are an integral part of the Chacra ecosystem, hence the label design for the Mainqué Chardonnay, and the beautiful, aromatic beeswax cap on the Chacra Chardonnay (which I'll admit to delighting in a whiff of with every glass I poured).
Piero had a realization that it seemed a shame to put so much love and meticulous care into farming without chemical intervention, to then bring the grapes into the cellar and add a bunch of sulfites. Keen on experimentation, he posed this question to the team, 'What if we simply trust the work we have done in the vineyard, trust our eyes, our nose, and mouth, and see what happens?' That is how the Sin Azufre came about. A batch of grapes from the Pinot Noir vines planted in 1955 was left to ferment and age with no additions, no SO2, and no temperature control. He recalls a debate with his oenologist who had tested the pH and insisted the batch would be ruined if they did not make an addition, but Piero had tasted the wine, and felt confident that despite what the numbers said, it would be fine. The result is a wine brimming with energy, complexity, and most importantly, drinkability.
The wine world started to take notice of this little operation over in Patagonia, and in 2017 acclaimed Burgundian winemaker Jean-Marc Roulot decided he wanted to get on board. Now a collaborator in the production of Chardonnay at Chacra, Jean-Marc is no silent partner from afar. Taking advantage of the opposite harvest season with the Northern Hemisphere, he oversees everything from harvest, to pressing, and vinification; lending years of experience and finesse to the wine-making. Just because they prefer a wine made with chemical-free farming, fermenting with indigenous yeasts, and low to no doses of SO2, does not mean they are hands off. Every detail and decision has been thought over, and every tank and barrel kept impeccably clean. For the whites, the grapes are picked in the early morning, pressed immediately into vertical steel tanks to allow the larger particles to separate, and a precise balance is created with a mixture of aging in used and new barrels with only a light toast to avoid too much oak flavor.
Though Piero employs oenologists to test the pH, brix, and composition of his wines, and a geology specialist to send electro-currents through the ground to detect optimal areas of mineral absorption, he will tell you that what he relies on most is his nose and taste buds. There seems an almost comical push and pull between science and intuition on his team. Chacra is in a state of constant research, development, and evolution; utilizing the newest technology, while remaining focused on their mission of creating the best, purest possible expression of this small piece of Río Negro. We are thrilled to offer a selection of their wines today! Michelle DeWyngaert
Bodega Chacra 2019 Patagonia Rio Negro Cinquenta y Cinco 'Sin Azufre'
Sin Azufre began as an experiment to see what would happen if you made a wine without any intervention; no temperature control, no pH readings and adjustments, and without the use of any sulfur. The result is a wine that feels "alive," that vibrates with energy and purity. Chacra was already doing conscientious work in the vineyard (farming biodynamically, encouraging biodiversity, etc) so it was a natural progression to attempt to make a wine as "naturally" as possible. This year's Sin Azufre, 100% Pinot Noir from their estate vineyard plot planted in 1955, is clean, expressive, and distinctly savory. The grapes are fermented in alternating layers of whole cluster and destemmed fruit, foot-crushed, and aged in a mixture of cement, neutral oak, and some steel. Bright red fruits mingle with notes of rosemary and soy sauce, a balance of umami and salinity that gives this wine a real sense of place. The palate is bright and lifted with soft, silky tannins. Despite the absence of sulfur as a preservative, this bottle held up for several days after opening. Michelle DeWyngaert
Bodega Chacra 2018 Patagonia Rio Negro 'Mainque' Chardonnay
When Jean-Marc Roulot discovered the incredible work and terroir of Bodega Chacra he knew he wanted to collaborate. Both the Mainqué and Chacra Chardonnay are overseen by Jean-Marc from deciding when to harvest, pressing, and vinification.The Mainqué bottling is named for the village where the estate is located, and the label design is a tribute to the biodiversity of the land, namely the network of beehives placed throughout the vineyards. For the 2018 vintage, the grapes ripened earlier than usual, so they were picked early to maintain acidity, and did not go through malolactic fermentation. The wine is then aged in a mixture of 30% in concrete eggs, and 70% French oak barrels (15% new, 85% used) for ten months. On the nose are notes of fresh cream, brown butter, fleur du sel, dried chamomile, and ripe, yellow and green apples. The palate displays the signature salinity you find in all Chacra wines, wrapped in a creamy richness, and finished with bright, crisp acidity. Michelle DeWyngaert
Bodega Chacra 2019 Patagonia Rio Negro Chardonnay
Jean-Marc Roulot brings his incredible experience in Burgundy to the southern hemisphere with this stunning collaboration with Piero Incisa della Rocchetta at Bodega Chacra. The Chardonnay for the Chacra bottling comes from 40 year-old vines grown on river stones covered with crushed white calcareous rock and this wine is the perfect medium for displaying the unique terroir of Rio Negro. The grapes are picked in the early morning and pressed immediately into vertical steel tanks and aged in a combination of 20% concrete eggs, 15% stainless steel tanks and 20% used French oak barrels for ten months. This bottle is immediately transporting with the scent of the wax seal made from the beeswax of the hives situated throughout the vineyard. Upon opening the nose is subtle, but with time and air, blossoms with notes of fresh chamomile and honeysuckle, white peach skin, crème fraîche, and wet stone. The palate highlights minerality and vibrancy; clean, fresh, powdery texture invoking the calcareous soil, with plenty of refreshing acidity tempered by the partial oak aging. Though I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle young, the balance and structure warrant cellaring for 5-10 years, if you can be so patient. Michelle DeWyngaert