Since natural wine first became a part of the collective conversation 20 years ago, it’s revolutionized the wine world. The ethos of natural winemaking is minimal intervention. Where vintners seek the true expression of the grape in the bottle through spontaneous fermentation, no additives or sulfites; a hand-made approach that eschews chemicals or herbicides and treats the vineyard with respect. It’s a simplistic approach to wine, without manipulating the product to the uniformity of mass-market wines.
The process is anything but. It involves a steep degree of difficulty and requires extensive knowledge of winemaking, temperamental grapes, and how to navigate the ever-changing climate all while giving meticulous care at each step. Santa Julia, Argentina’s top organic wine producer, has released its latest offering — El Burro Natural Malbec — in a new line of natural wines that codifies its holistic approach and enduring vision of sustainability.
El Burro Natural Malbec joins Santa Julia’s other natural selections of La Oveja Torrontés, El Zorrito Orange Chardonnay, and La Mantis Pet Nat. “This line of natural wines completes the total philosophy of Santa Julia. It contemplates our way of working in a sustainable way and is a new category that allows us to innovate and learn,” says Julia Zuccardi, the brand’s namesake and director of tourism and hospitality.
A Holistic Approach to Winemaking
Based out of Mendoza, Santa Julia has been making high-quality wines emblematic of Argentina since the 1990s. The estate lies in Maipu, just south of the city of Mendoza, and receives plenty of intense daylight followed by cool nights. Set close to the Andes Mountain range, the terroir is ideal for producing high-acid grapes that are complex and character-driven.
Currently, 741 of the 2,000 acres are farmed organically, with a goal set for 100 percent of the property. They’ve gone so far in their holistic approach to creating a sustainable microclimate by repurposing all water used in the winery for irrigation, establishing a composting and waste reduction program, and only using natural fertilizers in the fields.
Santa Julia’s approach to natural wine, led by winemaker Rubén Ruffo, begins in the vineyard. Ruffo, who has worked 25 harvests for Santa Julia, knows that healthy grapes are key, and the estate grapes that ended up being selected are on soil that has been certified organic since 2001. The Malbec is hand-harvested, which Ruffo tends to pick earlier, allowing for higher acidity and a better chance to avoid disease or bacteria, which can lead to defects in the final product.
The rest of the vinification process uses the least amount of human intervention possible. Ruffo and company use indigenous yeasts from the vineyard for spontaneous fermentation, do not add sulfites, and leave the wine unfiltered. The result? A fresh, complex, infinitely interesting wine that is a true expression of the Mendoza landscape.
El Burro, made from 100 percent Malbec, is named, like the other wines, after a creature that has been meaningful to the family throughout its history. Macerating for 15 days, the vegan-friendly Malbec has a vivid violet hue with an explosion of fresh dark fruit flavors like plum and black cherry. With medium tannins and crisp acidity, El Burro is an ideal pairing for grilled meats and vegetables, as well as hard cheeses and red-sauce pasta.
Inciting Change Beyond the Vineyard
Fully dedicated to creating a sustainable, innovative community, Santa Julia has made great strides to uphold the sociological and ecological impact of its mission. As Julia Zuccardi says, “True sustainability is not just about the land, but the people too.” The producer was the first winery in Mendoza to achieve “Fair for Life” certification and has an ongoing education program for adult employees. It offers support courses for children and teenagers as well. Its hardworking employees and families in Santa Rosa also have a multi-purpose space with the only computer lab in the area, study zones, a gym, and a library.
It also supports local artists, having commissioned Emiliano Pierro to paint each label of the natural wine line. The Mendoza artist immediately understood Santa Julia’s philosophy and captured a childlike playfulness with each unique portrait. With its focus on its workers, quality of life, education, and creating cultural opportunities for the area, Santa Julia is doing its part to support the community, further economic growth, and reduce inequality.
A natural Claret is in the near future, but in the meantime, Santa Julia is busy with a new family project: building a natural wine facility. The facility will enhance the estate’s wine tourism aspect by creating an immersive winemaking experience for all who visit.
If you can take a trip to Santa Julia, be sure to. But if you can’t, simply open up a bottle of El Burro, or any of its other varietals to experience the magic of a product born from a beautiful place crafted by people who truly care.
This article is sponsored by Santa Julia.