Guardians of Mountain Life: Terrazas de los Andes

Fierce and wild, the majestic Andes mountains might be the last place one would expect to encounter verdant vineyards. Yet upon exploration of the region, French adventurer Herve´ Birnie-Scott envisioned terraced vines carved into the seemingly inhospitable terrain. Armed only with a WWI-era altimeter, sturdy boots, extensive viticulture experience, and a dream, the viticulturist and winemaker set out to prove that fresh, site-specific wines could be made from the most extreme reaches of this magical, mountainous place. Terrazas de los Andes is validation that he was more than correct.

A cold-climate winemaking expert with experience in Sancerre, Victoria, and California’s North Coast, Birnie-Scott was brought to Mendoza in 1991 by Jean-Pierre Thibaud, president at the time of Moët & Chandon’s Argentina group. With a belief that Mendoza could deliver world-class still wines (Moët & Chandon had been experimenting with making French-inspired sparkling wines in Argentina since the 1950s), Thibaud challenged Birnie-Scott to explore the extreme high-altitude, cool-climate terroirs located in the terraces of the Andes mountains and to lead the search for vineyard sites capable of a refined varietal expression.

Hervé Birnie-Scott

Up into the mountains he went. For five years, Birnie-Scott scoured the Andes foothills, pouring over topographical maps (where he learned that for every 100 meters in elevation gain the temperature drops one point Celsius) and hiking the varied mountain terraces that give Terrazas de los Andes its name. He also worked to refine and redefine winemaking practices in Argentina, replacing old techniques with fine wine practices from France.

Birnie-Scott’s explorations did not go unnoticed. Because the other bodegas were farming heavy and conventional wines on the easily accessed, sun-burned plateaus of the Mendoza lowlands, the locals nicknamed him “el loco frances” (the crazy Frenchman) for his years-long quest to capture the pure, fresh taste of the Andes from these high-risk but high-reward elevations that require extreme viticulture. His adventures ultimately led to the creation of Terrazas de los Andes, whose first vintage, 1996, was released in 1999.

Terrazas de los Andes Vineyards

Today, with Birnie-Scott as estate director, Terrazas de los Andes farms a breathtaking mosaic of 200+ individual high-altitude wine terraces producing 100% pure mountain fruit, irrigated precisely and sustainably with pristine glacier water. Malbec is the star, yet each of the wines is full-bodied but elegantly aromatic and bright.  

To achieve Terrazas’ signature bright style, Birnie-Scott is adamant about not erasing the character of the grape with too much extraction or over-ripeness. He also harvests on the early side, preserving lively acidity, a ruby hue, and bright floral notes on the nose. For the mouthfeel he aims for a wine that is juicy and full bodied with intention, featuring a beam of acidity, the result of elevation and the early ripening. His technique, combined with the high-altitude terroir, gives Terrazas wines the freshness and sense of place that is a point of difference across all the brand’s tiers: Reserva High Altitude, Grand, and the single-vineyard Parcel Collection.

Terrazas de los Andes Winery

Respect for nature is key to the Terrazas winemaking philosophy which is based on the belief that wine is grown, not made. Recognizing the conservation of this fragile ecosystem as a sacred responsibility, the Terrazas team is committed to a project they call Guardians of Mountain Life, the mission of which is to unleash and protect the magic at the top of the world – embracing regenerative and organic viticulture, conserving precious glacier water, and supporting the local Andean community and their own employees.

Terrazas de los Andes Cellar

With a motto of “Onward and upward,” Birnie-Scott continues to discover new wine frontiers, such as Terrazas’ El Espinillo property, the highest vineyard in Gualtallary at 5413 feet (1650 meters) and the jewel in the Terrazas crown. Always exploring, he and the Terrazas team continue their pursuit of new wine frontiers. 

Photos courtesy of Terrazas de los Andes

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