Based in Vista Flores, in the south of Argentina's Uco Valley near Tunuyan, Clos de Los Siete is the flagship Argentine winery of world-famous French enologist Michel Rolland -- and perhaps the most ambitious (and most expensive) winery project on on the planet. Stretching out across the foot of the Andes, this mega-operation consists of five individual wineries, the fruit of Rolland's collaboration with seven French partners.
The first of these five wineries is Bodega Diamandes, belonging to the Bonnie family, owners of Bordeaux's Château Malartic-Lagraviere and Pessac-Leognan's Château Gazin Rocquencourt. Another of the wineries is called Cuvelier los Andes, the project of Jean Guy and Bertrand Cuvelier of St. Julien's Château Leoville-Poyferre and Bordeaux's Château Le Crock. The third winery is owned by Catherine Pere-Verge, who also owns Château Montviel, Château Le Gay, Château La Graviere, and Château La Violette -- all in Pomerol -- and is called Monteviejo. Also in the mix are Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and Laurent Dassault of Listrac's Château Clarke and Saint-Emilion's Château Dassault. Their slice of Clos de Los Siete is called Felecha de los Andes. The fifth winery, of course, belongs to Rolland himself. Visiting Clos de la Siete couldn't be more surreal. The landscape is daunting and edge-of-the-world rugged, yet behind each winery's uniquely stylized, grandiose architecture, lay perhaps the most technologically advanced winemaking facilities on earth.
The five wineries draw grapes from roughly Clos de La Siete's 850 hectares of vineyards planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Tannat and Tempranillo (these two are being grown experimentally for now)as well as a number of white varietals, particularly Sauvignon Blanc. Clos de la Siete is also the name of the operation's flagship and most widely available bottling, a red blend made by Michel Rolland from grapes harvested from all the property's separate parcels.
Though each year's is different, the Clos de la Siete is generally Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon dominant with Syrah and Petit Verdot showing up frequently. Growing grapes in the Uco Valley - which is much cooler than Mendoza - surely presents unique challenges to the Bordelais running the show: this is a desert climate , with sandy, pebble laden soil requiring extensive irrigation, as well as elevation and vineyard gradation radically different from Bordeaux's essentially flat growing region. Clos de los Siete released its first vintage in 2002 and since then has been steadily finding finding its stride.
Until the early 1990s, Argentina's wine industry was focused inward, as the local market's thirst was sufficient to absorb the huge quantities of everyday drinking wine produced there. But with per-capita consumption in the domestic market in sharp decline since the mid-1970s, Argentina's wine producers realized that they had to look to export markets to remain in business, and winemaking in Argentina began its transformation.
In just a few short years, Argentina has shifted its emphasis to the production of quality wine and turned its attention to export markets. Vine yields have been reduced dramatically. Large old wood casks have been widely replaced by oak barriques. And a major wave of new planting has taken place in mostly cooler, high-altitude sites that are better suited to producing serious wines, such as the Uco Valley, in the foothills of the Andes, about 80 miles south of the city of Mendoza. Despite the widespread reduction of vine yields, Argentina remains a huge wine producer, ranking number five in the world. Red Argentine wines, especially those from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends incorporating these two varieties, represent the lion's share of the best bottles.
Many of today's finest Argentine wines have barely five years of history. Consulting winemakers from California and Europe have brought their technical expertise to Argentina, as well as their knowledge of what is necessary to compete in the world wine market. At the same time, there has been an explosion of foreign investment by wealthy wine producers, luxury corporations and individual investors attracted by inexpensive vineyard land and by Argentina's warm, dry climate. Since the Argentine peso was sharply devalued in late 2001, land prices have been even more attractive to outside investors.