The stark and endless brown desert scrubland of northern Patagonia is not a hospitable place. There’s nothing apparently living here but the vultures and the occasional wild horse, except where rivers and canals create occasional oases of green. The Rio Negro Valley is 620 miles south of Buenos Aires. From here it is another 1,500 miles further south to the extreme tip of Patagonia. Viticulture is only possible because of a network of canals established in the 1900s. These carry water from the region’s two rivers, the Neuquén and the Limay, fed with snow-melt from the Andes carried down by the Rio Negro, supplying every town, village and vineyard with pristine Andean water. The climate is bone dry with just seven inches of rain each year. In the growing season, daily temperatures fluctuate between 28ºC in the daytime and 9ºC at night. In summer it can be over 40ºC in the afternoon and then close to freezing at night. Frost can be a problem early in the growing season, as it has been in 2022. The dry climate with a maximum humidity of 30% keeps the area free of disease; the atmosphere is pristine, pure and unpolluted, the air clear and bright.
Proprietor and winemaker, Hans Vinding-Diers, son of the celebrated Peter Vinding-Diers, has wine running through his veins. Born in Stellenbosch and raised in Bordeaux, he has made wine in many regions of the world. He came to Patagonia’s Neuquén in the late 1990s on a short-term project with a long-established wine producer there, in the course of which he evaluated their library of vintages running back to the 1930s. Although unimpressed with the quality of Argentinean wines as a whole at that time, he was bowled over by the freshness, intensity and elegance of these venerable wines and started to believe that he could make something special there.
After two years of searching, Hans found the Mainqué vineyard, ancient and abandoned, with 3.7 acres of vines planted in the 1930s and 1950s, mostly with Malbec. The Contessa di Marone Cinzano came in as a partner, and so Noemia was established in the early 2000s. Hans began the laborious process of restoring the vineyard to life. The vines had run wild and the soil was like concrete. It was hard work. A fully-equipped and modern winery was built at the property a few years later. Now the vineyards are bursting with health, the Noemia estate an enchanting spot surrounded by wind-breaking poplar trees, at its heart the oddly magical Noemia vineyard with its 90 year-old vines.
Hans is passionate about maintaining the vineyards in an environmentally sensitive manner, which he is convinced affects the quality of the grapes. The vineyards are organically farmed and have in fact never, since their original planting in the 1930s and 1950s, seen any synthetic inputs whatever. Little vine treatment is required because of the healthy climate, and the vineyards radiate health and vitality. He is keen on enhancing the biodiversity of the estate and there are plans for animals, and more orchards and vegetables, while compost comes from a farm down the road.
The first few vintages attracted deserved attention for their great quality and style, but in the last few years the wines have risen to an even higher level. In 2017, Hans became sole owner of Noemia, moving with his family to live permanently on the estate. A combination of intimate involvement with every stage of the grape-growing and wine-making process and ever greater understanding of the vineyards and the wines they can produce seems to be resulting in even more refinement. These are without doubt some of the greatest wines of Argentina.