"Mendoza is an organic paradise, but my dad wants to kill me," said Matias Mayol, of Familia Mayol, and laughed. "It's a lot of work, but he finally understands that the effort we put into the vineyard comes back to us once the wine is bottled." To best allow for the terroir's expression, Mayol and his team work through all of the vines, removing leaves by hand when the grapes are small, to help increase the sun's exposure early on. "We get rid of the shoulder on each cluster to have more homogenous ripening." This way, said Matias, "the skin toughens and thickens, [developing] bigger tannins and color and ultra-ripe fruit all the way through to the seeds." The early leaf-removal not only allows for an early harvest that helps maintains acidity, but it also better develops fruit aromas and complexity, while preventing the grapes from burning, which tends to occur when the leaves are removed later in the season. And it means that he doesn't have to spray in the vineyards.
Leaf-pull at fruit set in November
"We harvest 7-10 days earlier than others," said Matias, "and because we're so small, we don't have to do what everyone else is doing. I have to find my own ways." A third generation vintner who didn't attend oenology school, Matias practices a form of "lazy winemaking", that requires this emphasis on manual labor in the vineyards. "We do concentration in the vineyard, not in the winery," he said. "I learned to make wine by making wines. The more you add to the wine, the less you can taste the vineyard. You make it commercial," he paused before adding, "I'd rather have vineyard expression."
Matias has some of the best singular vineyards in Mendoza where every 100 feet the temperature drops one degree celsius, a variance in temperature that allows Mayol to plant a variety of varietals, though Malbec is still the dominant grape. Planted to poor soils, where there are no trees and only scrubs, the fruit here is "allowed to speak for itself".
Removal of clusters & shoulders
In 2011, despite the cooler temperatures and longer hang times, Mayol still harvested 7-10 days earlier than his peers. It's a vintage that he equates with 2008, the last time he bottled the Familia Mayol Old Vine Malbec "Finca Montuiri". From a single block of vines planted in 1926 at 3,020 feet (some of the highest altitude vines in the world), the wine was made in 2009 and 2010, but it wasn't bottled. "It wasn't balanced enough for a single vineyard bottling," said Matias. There was "to much sugar content in the grapes but the phenolic compounds weren't there." And because he makes only 200-300 cases, the vintage has to be just right.
Working for the past three years with fans in his cellar (two fans per vat), Matias removes the CO2 and let's the alcohol evaporate. "A friend from Italy showed me this technique," he said. And because Mendoza has a lot of warm days, he added, "we get a lot of sugar content quickly, but sometimes you have to wait for the phenols to develop." With de-stemming, no crushing, no cold-soak and a short fermentation, "to get all of the extraction in a short period," the 2011 vintage is the first to see this technique, which led to a 0.5% drop in abv.