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The wines of Neuquén are increasingly known. Its quality has nothing to envy to Mendoza and Sanjuanino wines. This great Patagonian valley produces export wines , but it is also normal to see them in supermarket gondolas. The story of Piedra Libre, Juan's vineyard, does not go exactly this way: despite the more than 10,000 bottles per year, Juan wants them to be bought (and preferably consumed) in the vineyard where they are produced . Bottles at the moment do not have a label because marketing is, precisely, the place where Piedra Libre does not go.
From El Chañar to Centenario , there are several options between small and large producers. The small town of Vista Alegre is opposite the Rionegrin municipality of Rear Almirante Cordero and both are separated by the imposing Neuquén River. The 2 hectares of the vineyard are located in this quiet part of the valley. Walking among the vines, Juan tells me that “how beautiful and quiet the area is makes the visit a unique experience from the moment you begin to approach the place”.
The Esteves family is from San Luis and settled long ago in Neuquén. The passion for the customs of roast , wine and guitar also corresponds to a vision of care towards nature : “I was raised with the values of respect for nature and that is what I want transmit with the wines,” says Juan. Generally, in vineyards chemicals are added to plants to prevent birds from eating them, flooding irrigation is also used and fires are made in tachos to prevent frost. However, in Piedra Libre, it goes on the other hand... The drip irrigation method and letting nature take its course make the final result a pure and truly indigenous wine. But, above all, the process through which the wine passes, from the vine to the harvest by hand, is in total accordance with the essence of the grape and the place where it is growing.
Juan's vision of this is such that even the name Piedra Libre comes from a metaphor for the style.We approached the river and, after a wet face, Juan tells me: “You can clean the land once and a thousand times, but the stone of the river will always return. Instead, if you look for a way to live with that stone without trying to eliminate it, the results will be genuine; here the stone is free .” This metaphor also fits life because “the stone symbolizes obstacles. We are a country with many economic crises and that is one of the things to foresee, having our head and structure ready for when the bad streak comes; otherwise you have to close and raffle what cost you so much,” he says seriously.
Piedra Libre produces wines 4 years ago and has a ceiling of 50,000 or 60,000 bottles. However, rather than to increase its output unexpectedly, Juan aims to continue expanding from other areas. He demystifies those who indicate that wine and sport do not go hand in hand and tells me that he “would love to build a dock so that people can kayak and eat something while enjoying a malbec in the shade of a willow”. Some weekends a month, multidisciplinary activities already take place: exhausted cyclists arrive after an off road trip through amazing places, eager for a drink and some fresh air.
Juan's house is literally in the center of the vineyard. It was built by himself and has an unparalleled view. Installed in the living room, enjoying a light but tasty malbec-merlot, I ask Juan how many people he works with. He mentions another Juan, a flag-bearer boy of the rural school 60 kilometers from Vista Alegre, who came out of love to learn r and moved him by his intelligence and speed; and Leandro, the teacher of irrigation, defined as “with unparalleled piles” . Later, talking to the boys and watching how they address their boss-teacher, I guess in them mutual admiration and infinite desire to continue learning.
It is clear that, for Juan Esteves, the most multifaceted winemaker in the valley, cultural values are as important and essential to life as it is to drink a good wine.
Publication Date: 01/11/2020
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