The Patagonia region of southern Argentina is famous for its national parks, wild places, and stunning natural areas. Increasingly, it’s also becoming a region known for wine as more and more winemakers establish themselves in the southern part of the country. Our 2-part Patagonia wine guide provides an overview of this distinct wine region in southern Argentina. Here, an exploration of five wineries in Chubut province.
There’s no question that the winemaking regions of Mendoza and Salta/Cafayate still dominate the wine scene in Argentina and offer the most evolved wine tourism experiences. However, we found much to love in the evolving wine region of Argentinean Patagonia, which sprawls over the southern third of the country. There are dozens of wineries here with more added each year.
What makes Patagonian wines different?
The weather in Patagonia is notorious–very cold, very dry, and often very windy (sometimes more than 50 knots) with long periods of intensely strong sunshine and big differences between the high and low temperature each day–and that affects the grapes grown here and the wine made here. For example, the wind in Patagonia creates thicker skins on pinot noir grapes which gives Patagonian pinots deeper color, more tannins, and a generally bolder flavor. Patagonian conditions also coax unexpected qualities out of white grapes. For example, Patagonian chardonnays tend to be crisper and more refreshing than those from California or France and some producers are getting startlingly lively results with gewurztraminer and riesling grapes too.
Global warming, which affects all agriculture including grape growing, and many grape growers and winemakers assured us that it plays a role in the production of Patagonian wine too. For example, an agronomist told us that it used to be risky to plant cabernet sauvignon grapes in Patagonia because they ripen extremely slowly and need to be harvested late in the season which increases the risk of frost on the vine before the fruit is ripe enough to pick. Now the climate has changed so much that his winery plants cab sav with confidence (and makes lovely wine with it).
We visited five wineries in Chubut province. We hope you use our Patagonia wine guide to plan your own travel and tasting adventures in southern Argentina.
Patagonia wine guide: wineries in Chubut province
Chubut province is more southerly and, therefore, more challenging because of a more extreme climate including more wind, more powerful sun, and more extreme temperatures. Global warming is flexing its muscles in Chubut too. One Chubut winemaker told us that climate change is what allowed him to plant hybrid cabernet franc vines which, he believes, just might survive in the area now that temperatures are getting milder. Some wineries *around Trevelin* in Chubut also enjoy a maritime influence since wind from the Pacific Ocean can travel through valleys to reach the region. *travels through the Futaleufú pass, at 1,099 feet it’s one of the lowest passes to cross the Andes and the Futaleufú River is only one of two that crosses the continental watershed from Argentina to Chile, this allowing the maritime influence
Contra Corriente Winery: a sophisticated boutique operation
Contra Corriente means against the current in Spanish, and that phrase also neatly sums up the approach of Rance Rathie and Travis Smith, owners of Contra Corriente Winery and the PRG Lodge near the town of Trevelin at 43 degrees south of the equator. But it all started with fishing. The two friends from Montana had a passion for fishing and they traveled south to take on the most famous fishing grounds in Patagonia. After guiding in Patagonia for years, the duo created Patagonia River Guides (PRG) and built it into an extremely popular fly fishing operation.
In 2014, the duo acted on their dream of adding a boutique vineyard and winery to the operation by planting 10 acres (4 hectares) of land around the lodge in pinot noir, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, and riesling grapevines.
Their chief winemaker, Argentinean Sofia Elena, and consulting winemaker Jeff LeBard (of Gainey Vineyards in California) released the first vintage in 2018. Fewer than 10,000 bottles are produced each year and with such small production, these surprisingly sophisticated wines are only available at a handful of top restaurants in Buenos Aires and directly at the winery.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Visitors can reserve just a vineyard tour, a tour and tasting on the lodge’s spa deck overlooking the vines, or a tour and tasting on the spa deck with a charcuterie plate.
Restaurant: Yes…During local fly fishing season (November through May), the lodge and restaurant are fully occupied by fly fishing guests. Between June and October, however, the lodge and restaurant pivot to accommodate wine lovers.
Accommodation: Yes…During the Patagonian fishing season (November through May) the 12-room PRG Lodge fills with fly fishing groups. Between June and October, the lodge rebrands itself as the Contra Corriente Wine Lodge and offers wine lovers stylish luxury boutique accommodations, a spa, and plenty of ways to appreciate the wine as well as outdoor activities in the region.
Casa Yagüe: patient elegance
Owners Patricia Ferrari and her husband Marcelo Yagüe do not come from winemaking families. They are self-taught and have relied on the advice of others and they admit that they’re still experimenting and learning. In fact, winemaking was never in the plan. Marcelo was selling the land where the winery is currently located (he’s a real estate agent and Patricia is an interior designer). They remembered that the area was beautiful so Patricia came to see the parcel and fell in love with it.
In 2004 they bought the abandoned, overgrown property for themselves and, since then, they’ve acquired adjacent parcels to amass a total of 175 acres (70 hectares). They planted chardonnay and sauvignon blanc on a couple of hectares in 2004. In 2018 they planted more chardonnay, some cabernet franc, semillon, malbec, and pinot noir. Today, 10 acres (4 hectares) are planted in vines.
Their first vintage was in 2017 when they produced just a few hundred bottles. By 2019 they were producing 6,000 bottles per year with plans to expand. For now, you can find organic, unfiltered Casa Yagüe wines in a handful of restaurants (including Mirazur in France which is helmed by Argentinean chef Mauro Colagreco and has 3 Michelin stars) and at the winery near the town of Trevelin.
Tours and tastings: Yes…A brand new tasting room was recently added to the winery. Reservations required. When we were at Casa Yagüe they were only producing white wines while they waited for red varietals to mature. Our tasting included a refreshing and light 2019 sauvignon blanc which had a very discrete nose then a burst of tartness in the first sip which made us think of Sweet Tarts. The 2019 chardonnay, aged in new French oak for six months, had just a touch of wood with a pleasing roundness that remained fresh.
Restaurant: Yes…Lunch and sunset tapas are offered by a chef and sommelier in the winery’s semi-covered tasting room/restaurant.
Accommodation: Yes…There are two peaceful, stylish, and comfortable standalone casitas for overnight guests at Casa Yagüe and they’re perfect for couples, friends, or families. We stayed in the smaller one which sleeps three with a double bed and a single bed in the same bedroom, one bathroom, a small dining/living area, and a small but serviceable kitchen with a mini-fridge, a stove, and cooking and eating utensils. There’s also a huge furnished patio with a parrilla bbq overlooking a lovely pool with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and views of the vines. The other casita sleeps four in two bedrooms, one with a double bed and one with two twin beds. There’s one bathroom, a dining area, a small kitchen, and a second kitchen with a full fridge and a stove/oven combo. There’s also a patio with vineyard views. Both casitas have Wi-Fi, but there are no TVs.
Viñas del Nant y Fall: a tourism-ready family affair
Sergio Rodriquez is a precise and soft-spoken man whose family came from Italy where his grandparents lived on a vineyard. In Patagonia, Sergio and his family have created a vineyard and winery near the town of Trevelin that calls on those Italian roots to make wine in a new climate.
In 2011 they put in their first vines–mostly pinot noir with some riesling and gewurztraminer–with the concept of making lighter, very drinkable wines. The locals thought they were crazy to plant grapes, but the pinot clones they planted were specifically created to have all of the characteristics of the varietal in France but adapted to the cold and they’ve survived and thrived. Climate change has helped too. Sergio says that 20 or 30 years ago his land would be covered in snow by late May. Now, he says, some years there’s no snow at all or just a light dusting.
2016 was the first full Nant y Fall harvest and in 2017 they completed their first bottling. In 2019 the winery produced about 10,000 bottles from vines on 6 acres (2.5 hectares). The winery is named for a nearby river and reserve and farming is done organically (though without official certification) and the harvest is done by hand.
The vineyard’s volcanic earth and Pacific Ocean influence, thanks to a break in the continental divide that funnels sea air into this pocket in the valley, helps Sergio and his family to create wines that are a mix of weird and wonderful. *same as Yague and Conta*
Tours and tastings: Yes…Walk-ins are welcome, though reservations are recommended since Nant y Fall attracts about 2,000 visitors per year for tastings and vineyard tours. An audio guide in English Spanish Portuguese, French, German, and Italian allows for self-guided tours of the vineyard. We tasted the surprising 2019 gewurztraminer which was almost clear in color and a touch sour with plenty of acid and very little sweetness. The even more surprising 2019 riesling was very pale yellow in color with almost no sweetness but plenty of herbs, fresh-cut grass, and green bell pepper. The 2019 Blanc de Noir white pinot (produced with no time on the skins) had a slightly sweet nose, was very clear, and tasted like a timid sauvignon blanc with good acid and almost effervescent mild minerals. The Rose pinot has a gorgeous pale ruby color with flavors of melon and flowers with some tannins and a light clean finish. The pinot noir was very dark red with a bit of barnyard and butter in the nose and a very drinkable fruitiness.
Restaurant: Yes…Meals are available and a small country store sells staples plus craft beer, cheese, sliced meats, and some local gourmet specialty products.
Accommodation: Yes…There are two simple private rooms with a shared bathroom plus 25 grassy creek-side camping spots with electricity and lighting plus the use of bbq grills, pristine showers and toilets, and a sink area for washing dishes or handwashing clothes. There are also seven spots for a few RVs and trailers with water and electricity hookups and a dump station.
Bodega de Bernardi: garage wine at its best
You may think that the wine begin produced at this bare-bones, organic, and biodynamic winery (sheep keep the weeds down and vineyard work is done in tune with the moon and the calendar) would be “interesting” but not particularly finessed. You’d be wrong.
Camilo Bernardi decided to turn his personal passion for wine into an actual winery on a piece of land that his family has owned for decades outside the town of El Bolson (which is technically just over the border into Rio Negro province, but far from the wine region in that area which is why we’re including Bodega de Bernardi with Chubut wineries). In 2011, Camilo planted some pinot noir and he now has 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of pinot noir and merlot and plans to plant more. He produces about 5,000 bottles a year of 100% varietals –no blends yet for Camilo, who is still studying onology.
With such low production, you can only find the surprisingly well-articulated wines from Bodega de Bernardi at a few top Buenos Aires restaurants (including the acclaimed Don Julio restaurant) and at the winery.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Reservations required. Camilo speaks Spanish only. We tasted a sauvignon blanc which was light butter in color, had a super floral nose, and a citric lemon drop explosion in the first sip. A merlot rose, made with very, very little time on the skins, still had a lovely ruby color (Patagonian wind produces thicker skins which impart color and other qualities more readily), a mild nose and hints of green pepper and herbs, and tasted like sour patch cherry Jolly Ranchers (if such a thing existed). We also tried two different pinot noirs. The first, fermented with commercial yeast, was extremely dark in color (almost like a malbec) and almost meaty on the nose with a lot of fruit in the first sips and even more with time. The second pinto noir we tasted was fermented with natural yeast and it had more fruit and spice immediately along with hints of mint and licorice.
Rincon de los Leones: rugged and remote magic
It’s fitting that we arrived at this small winery about 100 miles (180 km – allow four hours of driving) from the city of Esquel near the tiny town of Paso del Sapo, as a fierce wind storm kicked up so much dust and sand that visibility was at nearly zero by the time we pulled into the place. “This is not normal,” co-owner and winemaker Juan Giacomino assured us. “Climate change…” he continued.
Juan, a gregarious man of Italian heritage, was born in Chubut province. He is a working veterinarian (livestock owners in Paso del Sapo rely on him) who once rode a horse from Montana to Patagonia. It took 2 years. That’s the kind of toughness it takes to grow grapes and make wine in this part of Patagonia.
Juan likes to say that Mendoza wines are all about the winemaker and in Patagonia, it’s about the terroir. Juan’s 6,000 acres (2,500 hectares) of terroir is an extremely arid mix of rocks and sandy soil. Somehow he grows alfalfa and runs some cattle on that land. He recently stopped running sheep because they kept getting stolen. Though most of Juan’s land remains unplanted, but in 2011 he put in some chardonnay vines in 2011. In 2014 and 2015 he added merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, and table grapes.
Now Juan has about 5 acres (2 hectares) planted in vines. He doesn’t produce much wine, but each bottle is lovingly topped with red wax then stamped with the winery’s logo, the footprint of a puma (sometimes called a leon in Spanish).
Tours and tastings: Yes…Reservation required. When we were there we tasted a 2019 chardonnay that was green/gold in color with a vaguely fruity nose with hints of caramel and very little oak but with enough body and balanced acids to hold its own as we ate rich freshly grilled lamb.
Restaurant: Sort of…Simple meals are available for overnight guests or guests can use a small shared kitchen to cook their own food.
Accommodation: Yes…Juan also runs the Estancia Los Robles Hospedaje which offers a handful of simple but comfortable rooms with concrete floors, okay mattresses, modern bathrooms, hot water, and electricity (no TV, no Wi-Fi, and no cell service, however).
Honorable mention: In 2019 renowned Mendoza winemaker Matias Michelini planted a few rows of vines just meters from the sea on the property of the wonderful Baia Bustamante Lodge which is located in extreme southern Patagonia at 45 degrees south of the equator. It’s too soon to tell what the harvest will be like, but this experiment in hyper-Patagonian grape growing represents the most southerly vineyard anywhere except for a handful of vines in New Zealand and Tasmania. It’s worth watching.
When to visit Patagonian wineries
South American seasons are opposite to those in North America, which changes key events like veraison and harvest. In Patagonia, for example, harvest generally happens in February and March. Many hotels, restaurants, and attractions in Patagonia also close during the heart of winter between July and November. Plan your visit accordingly.
Part 1 of our Patagonia Wine Guide covers wineries in Neuquén and Rio Negro provinces.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about Patagonia Travel
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