Familia Schroeder: Wine and Dinosaurs in Neuquén

Roberto Schroeder’s ancestors emigrated from Germany in the early 19th century. Today Roberto is another kind of pioneer, developing an ultra-modern winery in Neuquén, a Patagonian province not previously known for fine wine. The area he selected, San Patricio del Chañar, is located in the Neuquén River valley with an ample supply of water for irrigation of apples, pears, and grape vines.

Roberto (pictured here showing us how green harvesting is done in his vineyard)was one of several other investors who took the plunge when in 2001 the Provincial Government of Neuquén decided to use some of its ample petroleum revenues to diversify the economy by providing financial incentives to create a modern wine industry from scratch. With his experience growing orchard fruit in the valley, he knew the area had potential, but the risks were sizeable, too.

Today, the Familia Schroeder winery has 130 hectares of vines producing about 100 thousand cases of wine per year, half of which is exported. The climate is desert-like, with predominantly alluvial soils resulting in part from the glacier that covered the valley in the last ice age. Heavier, clay like soils are found closer to the river, while very poor, rocky soils are found in the higher altitudes (350 m) of the vineyard.

The winery is increasingly recognized for its fine wines, but it first gained fame for something quite different. During construction of the winery, the remains of a dinosaur called Aeolosaurus were discovered, and today they remain where they were found in a special exhibition in the ground floor of the winery.

And the wines? We tasted through most of the Familia Schroeder portfolio, including the top of the line Familia Schroeder bottlings, the Alpataco and Alpataco Reserve wines sold in the US, and some fine sparkling wines. A very sweet, sparkling Torrontes called Deseado and a Cremánt styled Pinot Noir called Rosa de los Vientos are both very successful. They’re having special success with both Chardonnay and Malbec. Winemaker Leonardo Puppato (pictured here), who has been with Familia Schroeder since the beginning, is making beautifully balanced wines with very judicious use of oak and putting just enough of the Chardonnay through malolactic fermentation to gain a creamy mouthfeel accompanied by refreshing acidity. The winemaking at Familia Schroeder is first-rate.

We’ll provide reviews of all the Famiia Schroeder wines in our upcoming Argentine report.

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