40 harvests old

Onofre Arcos, Gerente & Enólogo de Bodegas Chandon, en la Master Class de Chandon
To reach a 40th anniversary in this day and age — whether it’s personal or professional — should be applauded, but if you consider that Onofre Arcos has been making sparkling wine for Chandon Argentina since 1975, it makes perfect sense.

Why wouldn’t the Argentine winemaker and chef de cave love every minute of 40 harvests, making and assessing the world’s sexiest wine every day?

It must be a pretty fun job, if not one of the best in the world!

While only sparkling wine produced in the French region of Champagne can call itself Champagne, fizz is also produced in other wine-producing areas in France such as Loire Valley, Jura and Burgundy. The Loire’s Vouvray Mousseux uses Chenin Blanc instead of the traditional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes that go into Champagne, while Crémant from the latter two regions uses Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, varietals traditionally grown in those particular terroirs.

Throw Asti Spumante from Italy, Cava from Cataluña and sparkling wines from California, South Africa and Australia into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a polite reminder that fizz doesn’t just come from Champagne.

Even the UK is getting in on the action, with southern English wineries such as Nyetimber picking up prizes and earning recognition for their sparklers.

Home terroir
Back on home terroir, it’s fair to say that French knowhow from Moët Hennessy (Chandon’s parent) helped put local espumante on the map while providing a guiding light for other sparkling winemakers. Today, we can sip on what would be termed a blanc de blanc sparkler from Cafayate, Salta, made exclusively from Torrontés by Amalaya winery, to a blanc de noir made from Pinot Noir in La Pampa as well as espumantes made the “traditional” way by Cruzat, an Agrelo-based winery dedicated exclusively to fizz.

What was that? There’s a winery in La Pampa province? And it makes sparkling wine? There most certainly is, dear fizz fan, and it’s called Bodega del Desierto.

Sparkling wine is also the ultimate every-occasion drink: who in their right mind would ever turn down a glass of bubbles?

You can legitimately sip it for breakfast by turning it into a Buck’s Fizz with fresh orange juice, take it as an apéritif or digestif, pair it with many dishes, depending on the white/red grape combination, and, of course, toast any celebration from births to weddings and anniversaries, sporting achievements (stop wasting it, Formula One drivers, and drink it for goodness sake), almost any occasion you like. You can’t say that about any other alcoholic beverage…

‘My life was about to change forever’
Back at Chandon Argentina, Onofre Arcos kicked off his career in 1975, which means the enologist notched up his 40th harvest this year. However, he remembers his first day at work at the winery as clear as a bell.

“One morning, in 1975, without realising it, my life was about to change forever,” Arcos says. “And I remember the expression on Philippe Coulon’s face — he was the director of enology at that time at Moët & Chandon — like it was yesterday; he accompanied me on this fascinating journey involving bubbles.”

It wasn’t just the French enology boss who guided the young Argentine enologist at the start of his eno-adventure; chef de cave Paul Caraguel was also one of his greatest teachers, he adds.

Arcos in fact took over that coveted position of responsibility 20 years ago (the French term means winery head), adding to his accomplishments.

The legendary French winery, Moët Hennessy, chose Agrelo as its first terroir outside of the Champagne region 54 years ago, and clearly the French expert eye saw something special at the food of the Andes.

Now growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Semillon in seven areas of Mendoza, the winery itself is based in Agrelo while vineyards are located as far south as La Consulta and Altamira in Uco Valley.

Setting up shop from scratch — and I’ve seen the photos, there was nothing in that part of Agrelo in the beginning — Chandon has become one of Argentina’s wine success stories, all the more impressive given that they started out, yes with plenty of financial backing and expertise, long before the Mendoza boom that began around two decades ago.

As Arcos now looks to share and pass on the information he started accumulating almost 40 years ago, the winery hosted a master class at the French Embassy in Recoleta to mark his 40 harvests.

Backed up by estate director Hervé Birnie-Scott and enologist Gustavo Agostini, it was the perfect moment to raise a glass to toast the chef de cave’s notable achievements – and it’s the perfect anecdote to recount next time you pop a Chandon cork.

Buenos Aires Herald, October 11, 2014

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