Back on April 3rd, The Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room was filled with tourists and locals who came to taste Bodega Furlotti and Soluna wines with their winemaker Mark Weiss and the owner Gabriela Furlotti. The winery was created by an Italian immigrant, Angel Furlotti, who started a winery over 90 years ago. To this day his granddaughter Gabriela continues the tradition in winemaking and in 2006 she started a Fair Trade focus.
Presenting wines from the family’s Fair Trade project, Soluna wines, Mark explained how the family and winery work with these principals to support a co-operative of producers. The co-operative of 19 producers ensures that the grape providers all receive a far price for the grapes and also create funds to be used towards social projects to help improve the quality of life for the producers.
Although the trend in Mendoza is for wineries to own their own vineyards, Gabriela remembers as a child living in a time when the ‘contratista’ method was popular for grape production. This is something that Bodega Furlotti and Soluna try to preserve and protect. A ‘contratista’ may not be the owner, but they are employed full time and live on the vineyards with their families (and most likely children who continue their work) to take care for the vines and employ harvesters and train others, and they share part of the profits of selling the grapes. It is a way of giving vineyard workers more pride in their work and was the way many locals came to own vineyards eventually.
Mark told us a few anecdotes of how the co-operative and Fair Trade helps the producers. One example was of a grape producer who had his mule stolen, leaving him without his ‘engine’ to till the land and transport materials. The co-operative (funded by Soluna wines) gave him money to buy a new mule.
Another of the key factors of the Fair Trade initiative is to buy grapes from producers who have old vines. Many producers in Argentina sadly rip out their historical vines to plant more profitable crops losing some of the most treasured vines in the country. Their intention is to protect these old vines and give the producers a good price to ensure that the winemaking story continues into the future on a local level.
Simple initiatives and protection to producers like this is an important aspect of helping preserve wine culture in Mendoza, and it was a very informative evening exploring the ways in which wine drinkers can help support projects like this just by buying a bottle. There’s nothing wrong with drinking wine and feeling good about it!
The wines we tried:
Soluna Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011: A ripe, rich berry Cab with a trace of pepper on the nose and an easy mouth feel and a lingering finish. Taken from a blend of three vineyards from Lujan de Cuyo and also one producer from the Uco Valley, this wine is fresh and for is a Cabernet Sauvignon that you could drink alone.
Soluna Malbec, 2010: With an impressive colour, this three year old Malbec shows considerable elegance for its entry level price point. Taken all from Lujan de Cuyo, the wine is resplendent of primary fruit with a very balanced structure and an attractive finish.
Soluna Malbec Primus, 2007: This icon wine for Soluna is so dark in colour you can see why Malbec was called ‘black wine’ centuries ago. Rich and intense in the nose, the mouth is filling and round with an impressive acidity for a six year old wine. Aged in newer oak for 16 months you can note the tighter structure giving it a greater aging potential and some aromas of leather and meat. A single vineyard wine taken from one of their long term producers who owns a vineyard with 110 year old vines and still uses horses to till the land.
Afterwards, I chatted to owner Gabriela Furlotti, who is the third generation in her family to do winemaking in Argentina, about her memories and why Fair Trade is important.
What is your first memory of wine?
The harvest. It is always the harvest! I remember the truck coming into the winery. To go see the grapes being put in the lagarde. As a kid, that was something to observe!
What do you think is special about the way Soluna works?
Easy. The interation with the producer that develops a long relationship. Price is important, but the main, core thing of Soluna is the relationship with the producers.
How would you describe Malbec in three words?
In three words?! Easy, soft tannins, sweet, mainly easy to drink – that’s why it’s so successful. Easy to drink – 3 words.
There’s a lot of Malbec because the normal consumer drinks Malbec, it is easy.
What do you hope to see in Argentinean wine in the next 10 years?
To see more small producers. To see that small wineries stay in the market… Every day it is really dificcult to stay in the market and stay profitable. I hope many still can. It is great to have small producers, that’s what makes Argentina different.
For more info about Furlotti and Soluna visit www.bodegafurlotti.com
Winemaker’s Night has finished for the season, but will be back at The Vines of Mendoza’s Tasting Room in September.
Amanda Barnes is a British journalist living in Mendoza, enjoying the wine and raising a glass every day to some of the great initiatives of wineries like Bodega Furlotti for protecting their own wine culture and workers through education and interaction.