#StraitsTalk: Altos Las Hormigas – An Interview with Terroir Specialist Pedro Parra
Photo credit: Giuliana Imports
Terroir is a French term that simply means “a sense of place.” This refers to the natural environment in which grapes are grown, including soil, topography, climate, and other factors that can affect the taste and character of wine. We chat with Pedro Parra, South America’s only terroir and soil specialist, who has extensive academic and field experience, to find out more about the fascinating art of studying terroir and his work with Altos Las Hormigas.
Pedro has worked with Altos Las Hormigas to redefine Argentinian wines (check out our full range of Argentinian wines) with more restrained oak influence and a greater focus on the expression of their incredible terroir – you can now have a taste of their efforts either by getting a couple of bottles from our shop or at our next Meet the Wine Expert series where Francesca Martin, Brand Ambassador, will take you through 5 elegant Malbecs on 17 April from 5-7pm. For more information on tasting events, follow us on @straitswinecompany on Instagram and Facebook.
Photo credit: Altos Las Hormigas
Thank you for taking time out for this interview! For our readers who are not familiar with the winery, could you give us a lowdown on the estate, and the typical characteristics of wines from Altos Las Hormigas?
Altos Las Hormigas is a pioneer of Malbec and Terroir driven wines in Mendoza. Alberto Antonini and Antonio Morescalchi, its Tuscan founders had the courage to bet on a grape that was considered second rate in 1995 and have driven, with their vision, the renaissance of the region. Altos Las Hormigas is a medium size winery geared toward purity and Terroir transparence, to make wines that are as close to their origin as possible, no big oak influence, no overripeness, natural yeasts and organic, regenerative farming, to make wines where flavours come only from grapes and their fermentation. My contribution to the project was to bring the knowledge needed to find the best, more interesting Terroirs. Wine is also made of dirt, just a handful of soil types are those that give that added dimension to the taste of a wine, and this is where my contribution comes into play.
Tell us a bit more about your work with the Altos Las Hormigas team and what has changed since you joined the team?
When Alberto and Antonio asked me to join Altos Las Hormigas, they told me that they aimed at going to the next level in terms of complexity, or expression and articulation in the wines. The market in 2010 perceived Malbec as all tasting the same and we started our quest for soils that would bring it to the next level. After a few years we determined that “Caliche”, a type of soil rich in calcium carbonate was what we were looking for, and a new chapter opened for the winery and the wines.
We hear the term “terroir-driven” all the time, so what is it that really sets Mendoza soil apart and how does it affect the grapes grown there?
Mendoza sits in the middle between a desert and a huge mountain chain – the Andes. Its soils were formed at the end of the last ice period, and it was a quite tumultuous period in terms of soil formation. Soils also carry the memory of the human activities developed upon them and somehow respond to climatic conditions, such as drought and rain scarcity. All these factors make the fabric of Mendoza soils, soils that have the right combination of low vigour and good micronutrients to be extraordinary soils for vines.
Coming from a terroir specialist perspective, what do you think makes a great bottle of wine?
The relation between soils and wines is fascinating, in the right climate conditions some soils give wine a unique fingerprint that can be from lean and precise to ample and luscious. Together with winemaking style, soil is the major element responsible for the personality of the wine, and what soil brings to wine cannot be created or mimicked by winemaking technique. If you drink a wine coming from a limestone vineyard, well farmed, vinified with a gentle hand you will have an experience that cannot be reproduced. Wine needs a bit of dedication, also to learn how to taste, but the reward can be really extraordinary. A great bottle is a bottle that surprises you, and the infinite diversity of soil with its impact on wine has a never-ending ability to surprise.
If there is one wine that our customers must-try from the winery, what is it and why?
It’s very hard to choose one among your “children” but I would recommend Malbec Reserve as a good introduction into what is a limestone soil Malbec and why it’s different from a “current” Malbec. Words cannot fully reproduce the experience of tasting it.
Lastly, a fun question from us, who’s your industry idol that you would like to have a glass of wine with?
I have had the fortune of working with many inspiring wine figures, but Alberto Antonini is my favourite. He is an understated professional that utters a few words but always to the point, his experience in winemaking embraces so many regions and countries and the best feature of its wines is that they are all very respectful of the place where they come from. Roberto Rossellini once said the best movie director is the one who makes films where you forget that there is a movie director, this is the case with Alberto’s wines.