In an exclusive interview, she talks about the advantages of being a woman in the wine industry, how to drink a perfect Spritz and the hype around natural wine.
TALKING CHANDON GARDEN SPRITZ
Hi Ana! What attracted you most to the profession of cellar master?
I’m from Mendoza, Argentina. It is a very traditional winemaking region and we are very used to live surrounded by vineyards and cellars. The culture of the Province is influenced by winemaking. When I finished high school and I had to choose what to study, one of my options was winemaking. I asked my father for some advice. He has lot of friends in the wine industry and he asked one of them if he could receive me for an internship in his cellar, 60 kilometers from CHANDON winery. That’s when I felt in love with winemaking.
What do you enjoy the most about winemaking?
What I like the most about it, is that we are using grapes that are from our own terroir, we plant them, we see them growing, we take very special care of watering them very precisely, since Mendoza is located in a high altitude desert and water is a very rare resource. I love this daily contact with nature. I love to be here, to experiment, to bring the best of the fruits to create exceptional sparkling wines every harvest. It is a huge responsibility to work with a natural element and taking good care of not damaging it for next generations.
What is so special about the Mendoza area?
Here in Mendoza, altitude is very important. We live at the foothills of the Andes Mountain around 1000m above sea level. Our vineyards go up to 1700m above sea level, one the highest winelands to grow grapes. I am so grateful to be granted with this beautiful view every day. Working in such an extreme environment is a challenge but it is also a blessing.
What I love about my job as a winemaker for CHANDON is that I am lucky enough to travel around the world making wine. At CHANDON, we are a community of 17 winemakers located in 6 unique estates around the world (CHANDON is the world’s largest domaine dedicated to sparkling wine production with wineries in Argentina, Brazil, Australia, California, China and India). I learn every day from my colleagues, from their different terroirs, from their unique winemaking savoir-faire, from their experiments, their trials,…
What aromas are characteristic for Mendoza?
When I started working at CHANDON, I discovered a huge palette of flavors and aromas coming from different grape varieties. We grow primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are the perfect varieties to produce sparkling wine in this region. These are by far our biggest plantings, with around 800 and 400 hectares respectively. To this we add a little Petit Manseng, and some Malbec, Mendoza’s most famous grape variety, which we use in our rosé cuvées. Our sites, with their range of different altitudes, are the best in the area. Our environment gives us very pure, true expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with bright primary-fruit notes, high acidity giving a nice refreshing palate.
Are there specific challenges that come with this location?
We’re already growing between 1,000m and 1,700m in altitude, but have our sights set also further up, because we are always looking for distinct, even purer expressions, with different soils and viticultural challenges. Every grape variety is cultivated at a different altitude. It took us years decades, to figure out which altitude (we call them the Terrazas) corresponds best to each grape variety.
It is highly important to mention that as we are located in a high altitude desert, the grape characteristics are very unique. The vines’ roots go deep into the desert soil in search of the clear Andean meltwater. This year we had very few snow. We already know that in a few months we will pass through an emergency situation with almost no water to irrigate our vines. It’s a desert, yes. but to us, winemakers, this is paradise.
Really interesting! Women in the wine industry are unfortunately still rare. Can you assess where this is coming from?
Well, I’m the first female winemaker in 60 years at CHANDON, Argentina. I think that’s partly because the industry was related to physical activity and strength. If you are in the winery, you have to use your force to do different things. I believe this is why it started as a male industry. I have to say that though, that now it’s not a matter of gender anymore. It’s a matter of personality. Luckily, I never suffered from being a woman in this industry. Every morning I go to the winery and check every tank, I go in the vineyard and work as the others. There is no difference between me and the guys.
Women bring something unique to this industry. A different way of tasting and crafting wines of inventing new recipes, of challenging old centuries savoir-faire. Talking about Garden Spritz, for example, it was like creating a perfume. It is a very female associated process because you have a lot of different ingredients you need to identify, marry to craft a unique and subtle liqueur recipe.
We craft our own herbs and spices macerates using no artificial flavors or colors. It is a very precise exercise. Only use a few drops of each herb and spice extracts go into our liqueur and then into our sparkling wine. If we exaggerate and pour one extra drop of a specific ingredient and the flavor changes a lot unbalancing the final recipe. I truly believe there is a feminine touch needed to subtly craft unique products which speak to the hearts of consumers.
You said that it’s not about gender, but about personality. That’s very inspiring. What kind of personality is needed to be a cellar master or winemaker?
If you believe that you can do something, you will do it. You don’t doubt to much. Determination and conviction are key. And that kind of personality traits are not only important as a winemaker, but also in life. I also believe that high levels of energy are needed to both succeed as a winemaker in the field, harvesting for example, and as a creator. I never ever met a winemaker that was not full of energy. We are passionate people, deeply rooted, proud of our lands, of the people and community we work with, the sparkling wines we craft.
Let’s talk about your new creation CHANDON Garden Spritz. What makes the drink different from other aperitifs?
Garden Spritz was inspired by our Argentinean penchant for bitter flavors. We, Argentine, including me, love a bitter taste because we are used to drink Mate since we are kids. It is more than a drink; it is a ritual almost for a our families and friends’ gatherings. We produce a very high-quality sparkling wine at CHANDON, but we wanted to add a second key ingredient to obtain this bitterness, so we tried a lot of different things. I only wanted to use natural ingredients, not any artificial color, no artificial aromas.
Sounds like a long process!
I made it clear since the beginning that I wanted the best, most authentic fruits. We went on a quest to source citrus and, in particular, oranges from very specific varieties. We found our Eden in a region in the North of Argentina called Entre Rios in a sustainable farm, which has been producing for three generations Valencia oranges certified with no residual pesticides. We process them in different ways.
To add complexity, we selected as well different herbs and spices. We spent a little over 4 years to choose the ingredients that would go into our bitter liqueur. 64 trials later, here we are! We know we have an incredible Spritz, naturally delicious, with the best sparkling wine and the most unique bitter-liqueur 100% crafted using natural ingredients.
What was your personal favorite part of the process?
We created a lot of different proposals to finally obtain the best one. My favorite part of the process has been to blend all the spices and the oranges and find the perfect balance. It is a very sensitive, precise work. If you put two drops more of something, the bitter liqueur is unbalanced. This is what I really enjoyed most during the whole creative process.
What feeling, what experience were you trying to convey with the Garden Spritz?
Personally, I love to gather friends and drink Garden Spritz. That’s why I compare it with the ritual of Mate, because if you want to drink it before a meal, it’s perfect. It’s an aperitif. If you want to drink it on your own (always in moderation of course!) you can also. Garden Spritz is all about relaxing, sharing, enjoying in the most natural way.
What is your favorite occasion to drink a Garden Spritz?
I love to drink it in my garden, listening to good music. What is amazing about the drink is that it also works perfectly with a lot of different kind of food. If you want to have Asian food, it is the perfect match here. With sushi and sashimi it is a blast. If you want to have Indian food that has of taste and spicy, it’s also working well because you have all the herbs and spices in the drink.
How do the flavor aromas affect the experience of drinking it?
I think the opportunity here, to make everything with natural ingredients and to make every maceration here at the winery is that we can manage the aromas intensity as we wish. As winemakers, we are master blenders. We craft a spritz blending our sparkling wine with our own bitter liqueur. It is at the very heart of our expertise.
And we put all our effort and all our knowhow into blending these different spices, the herbs, the oranges and the sparkling wine, of course. The best part of these natural ingredients is that we are thinking of the consumer. Young people pay a lot of attention to what they are drinking and what they are eating. We are very modern in that way because we are putting a lot of effort in bringing a recipe, that will be truly authentic to the fruits, herbs and spices we use.
There’s a big hype in the wine industry right now about natural wines as well. How do you see this development? Do you welcome the making of wines in a natural way?
It’s a global trend. You can find a lot of very good natural wines now in almost every market. They have come to challenge us, wine producers, bringing more naturality into the wine industry. I personally support the movement.
How do you see the future of the industry? Will natural wines be a serious alternative to regularly produced wine or will they remain a niche product?
For now, it is still a niche product, but the demand and the market are growing in a good way. Wine makers realize that sometimes you don’t need a lot of things to obtain the best product. You only need to follow and respect your soils. And that’s it. The consumer also really appreciates when you show your terroir, when you are transparent. So, for example, talking about the Garden Spritz, I really believe that this is a distinction between our and other spritz’s recipes. We have a huge commitment and responsibility towards our lands, our communities and our consumers.
Interview by Antonia Schmidt
Image Courtesy of CHANDON