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Liberty Wines Apprentice, Cecilia Gibbons, writes from Mendoza, Argentina, as she begins her southern hemisphere vintage experience.
"The timing of my arrival at Altos Las Hormigas couldn’t have been better as my first day of work coincided with the first day of the harvest. Leo, the winemaker and viticulturalist, took me straight out to visit the vineyards in Luján and explained the different soil types in the region, including the huge calcareous pudding stones in the best vineyard sites.
Since then, I have been doing a bit of everything at Altos: visiting vineyards with Juan (viticulturalist) to get grape samples, then analysing them in the lab with Coti, Fran and Noélia; analysing pH, acidity (total and volatile), Brix, sugars and free SO2 in the lab; working on the sorting table with the guys from the bodega; manual punch-downs and pumping over; and of course, lots of cleaning of bins, tanks etc. As all the fermentation takes place with natural yeast we don’t do any inoculation, but have to keep a very close eye on the fermenting vats. The winery is carrying out some terroir-focused micro-vinfication projects in addition to the main task of making the 2017 Clásico, Terroir, Reserve, Altamira and Gualtallary Malbecs. I am hugely excited as Leo says I can do my own micro-vinification project – watch this space!
I am staying in a house in Medrano with Alberto, a Chilean colleague from the winery. Medrano is a bit of a one-horse town, full of stray dogs, but surrounded by picturesque vineyards. The people are very friendly. We are like celebrities in the local supermarket – everyone knows who we are, where we are from, where we are working; certainly a change from the anonymity of London. The commute is also very different – a bumpy car ride along the dusty roads that run through the vineyards, with the spectacular backdrop of the snow-capped Andes.
There is a nice atmosphere in the winery – we sit down to have lunch together and there is always music playing (generally reggaetón in the lab, but I am getting used to that!). On Saturday we had an ‘asado’(a barbecue) after work with the whole winery team and ate lots of steak and morcilla with Malbec.
The only problem I am occasionally having is with my Spanish. Certain verbs have different meanings here, so I have innocently been saying some very rude things that make everyone blush. I am having to do a bit of doublethink, but am getting there. The giant spiders are also terrifying, but I am trying to be brave.
It’s very hot here and the sun is searingly strong, so I am glad of the enormous hat I bought. It’s still a week or so before most other wineries start harvesting their Malbec, so we are taking advantage of the lack of competition for pickers. In a couple of days the grapes will start coming in thick and fast and the winery will run 24 hours a day, everyone working at least twelve hours from 8am -8pm or 8pm -8am. The work is intense, but the team is great and I need to do something to burn off all the asados!"