Wine in the wind

Winemaking has evolved into a modern industry, and as wine lovers worldwide become more knowledgeable and demanding, Argentine winemaker Trivento gears up to meet the challenges.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Joe Goldman

Winemaking conjures up visions of people crushing grapes in huge wooden vats with their bare feet. But oenology has come a long way since those pre-industrial days. And in Argentina, the wine sector has made huge strides in just a short time.

One of Argentina’s top wineries is Trivento, owned by Chilean wine giant and South American viticulture leader Concha y Toro. The company burst upon the scene 12 years ago, and from the start it aimed at being a recognized brand in Argentina and around the world. It led the way in multiplying the country’s wine exports, earning worldwide acclaim in the process.

Today it is Argentina’s largest export brand, the second largest exporter of Argentine bottled wines in terms of volume and the third largest in terms of value, with a 9.1 percent market share. Some 2.4 million nine-litre cases were sold in 2007, for a total of 40.5 million US dollars, representing a 19 percent upswing over 2006 sales. Exports comprised 64 percent of that total.

Trivento is now reaping the benefits of a flourishing internal consumption in the midst of the largest economic boom Argentina has experienced in a century (8.5 percent average annual growth over the past five years).

Trivento owns 1,289 hectares in eight vineyards, located in Mendoza, Argentina’s top wine-producing province. Here magazine visited some of the company’s top vineyards, nestled in a gentle valley just below the Andes Mountains, about 900 kilometres due west of Argentine capital Buenos Aires and just across the mountains from Santiago, Chile.

“Because of its geographical location, the area has a combination of excellent soil conditions – rocky, with easy drainage – and special microclimates,” says chief oenologist Federico Galdeano. “Here you have hot, sunny days and colder temperatures at night and an unusually long ripening period.”

Name meaning Three winds

It also has the winds. Trivento takes its names from the three types of winds found in the region: the Polar, the Zonda and the Sudestada. The Polar winds, as the name suggests, are dry, cold winds that blow up from the South Pole in the winter, Galdeano says. They indicate that it’s time to start pruning the vines. A benefit of the chilly winds is that the roots of the grape plants spread longer and lower to seek warmth. However, they can also damage or kill buds and shoots, so the plants need to be covered to minimize danger to the vines, and the soil must be kept damp.

In contrast, Zonda winds are hot and dry, gusting from the Andes throughout the year. In spring they hasten the formation of buds, but if the winds are too harsh they can break the more developed shoots and dehydrate the vines. At Trivento the winemakers secure the longer shoots with wire and use a drop irrigation system to ensure that the plants have enough water.

The Sudestada (Spanish for “southeasterly”) winds are cool, fresh winds that accompany summer storms. These winds are a welcome change from the sweltering sun, but the moisture they bring can also promote disease. To minimize the risk, Trivento uses a de-leafing strategy in its canopy management.

Equipment for more efficient production

Galdeano is the chief winemaker, and he is ably assisted by five other oenologists, each covering a specific wine area. Fernando Piottante is in charge of sparkling wines. In the main winery he points out the latest sorting, cleaning, crushing and pressing technology used by Trivento.

The winery bought its first high-speed separators from Alfa Laval in 2004 to speed up and improve the wine-clarification process. Pleased with the separators’ performance, Trivento turned to Alfa Laval again in 2006 to replace its press with a Foodec decanter. It became the first Argentine winemaker to use a decanter.

Piottante says the Alfa Laval equipment has made the separation and cleaning of grapes faster, more efficient and more hygienic.

Marta Sterpin, business development director at Alfa Laval in Argentina, explains, “Wine production can only take place during a limited period because of the condition of the grapes, so equipment used for winemaking must be extremely efficient and reliable.”

At this time of the year, Piottante’s work is in full swing. “Sparkling wines use the young grapes, so this is the earliest harvest,” he says. He is busy overseeing the truckloads of grapes that enter the docking area behind the main plant to deposit their load. “We not only have grapes from our own vineyards for the sparkling wines, but we also buy grapes from small local vineyards.”

Small but crucial adjustments

The grapes go through a cleansing process and then enter a multiple separation procedure – first to remove the stalks from the grapes and then to gut the skins and seeds. Piottante is demonstrating the conveyor belt that carries the stalks away when his trained eye picks up a problem.

“The angle of the conveyor belt has to be at a steeper grade or else it holds up the process,” Piottante explains to two workers. They shut down the machine, put the conveyor belt at a more pronounced angle and start it up again. “It’s a small adjustment, but it’s crucial to have every phase working in harmony and with maximum velocity,” says Piottante.

“The oenologists are trained to be acutely aware of everything, from vineyard to bottling,” says Victoria Acosta, of Trivento public relations. “They are involved in the small details, sitting down and thinking out the solutions.”

The next stop is the bodega where the wine is loaded into 2,300 French and American oak casks and stored in a modern facility with automatic control systems for temperature and humidity. The aroma of oak permeates the warehouse.

Just then a group of visitors pass through the facility.“These are workers’ families, who are encouraged to visit the plant and see firsthand what their loved ones do,” says Acosta. There are generally 460 workers at Trivento at any given time, but the workforce swells to 750 during the harvest season.

New investments for Trivento

The future looks extremely rosy for Trivento. Argentine wines in general and Mendoza wines in particular have vaulted into international prominence. Today Trivento is exporting to 100 countries around the globe. Trivento’s wine varieties – Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Viognier – can be found in top restaurants, wine and liquor stores and supermarkets and have won important international competitions.

To meet future demand Trivento is staying ahead of the curve by acquiring land through long-term contracts to secure high-quality vineyards. It is also building a new, state-of-the-art, premium winery that will raise capacity fourfold. A new bottling line that will double current capacity is in the pipeline, as well new facilities for receiving specialized visitors and clients.

So forget about people crushing grapes in huge wooden vats with their bare feet. Today’s winemakers have gone high-tech to meet demand from wine lovers all over the world. In Argentina, it’s Trivento that’s leading the way.

A contemporary winery

Alfa Laval technology has become a big part of Trivento’s continual push to use the most modern equipment available.

In 2004 Trivento started using Alfa Laval’s high-speed separators for wine clarification to help control specific aspects of the finished product, including taste, colour, aroma and finish. Trivento oenologist Fernando Piottante says the technology saves time during filtration and reduces the need for diatom powder (a mix of cellulose, diatoms and polyethylene), which is used to release dust. It’s also an environmentally friendly process.

The Alfa Laval Decanter Foodec 500 helped streamline the operation even further. Piottante says it is used in three different processes for separating solids from liquids. “We can separate the pomace [the solid remains of the fruit] from the must [freshly pressed juice] of white grapes in a continuous process,” he says. “The must is then easily cleaned, using a cold temperature, before fermentation.”

The Foodec decanter also aids the thermo-flash operation, which is used for certain red grapes. The decanter allows for cleaner fermentation and decreases the post-fermentation bud downs (remains).

Another use for the decanter is the clarification of bud downs, which optimizes later filtrations. Piottante says the main advantages of the Foodec decanter are process continuity, from grape reception to tank, the homogeneity of the product obtained and the mechanical security and ease of cleaning of the equipment.

The Foodec decanter reduces the oxygen pick up during the extraction process to a minimum. The waste product from the decanter is also drier and much more manageable, compared with traditional methods. In addition, with the Foodec decanter oenologists have better control of the oxidation phenomenon.