In Argentina, most wineries and 75percent of all production is in Mendoza and San Juan province. Colomé is 1500kmnorth of Mendoza in Salta Province, very close to the Bolivian and Chilean borders in the northwest of Argentina. We are on the Tropic of Capricorn, so if we were at sea level it would impossible to have vine yards. Our vineyards are between1700 and 3111 meters in altitude, which is one of the highest in the world. Salta Province produces just 3 percent of all wines in Argentina, with a focus on high quality, and there are around 50 wineries here. Bodega Colomé is the oldest continuously operating winery in Argentina, started in 1831. There have been older wineries but they have disappeared overtime. We have 8 hectares of pre-phylloxera vineyards that are 150 years old ‒ it’s a mix of varietals but is mostly Malbec, with some Cabernet Sauvignon, mission grapes* and Torrontés.30 years ago, all Argentine wines were made only for local consumption, and unknown around the world. Two international winemakers, Paul Hobbs and Michel Rolland, who came to Argentina in the late 1980s made a significant difference, and started the move towards exporting wines. Since 2010 there is anew generation of Argentinian winemakers, I would put myself among them, who are reinventing winemaking in Argentina. There is a move away from ripe, oaky wines that Michel Rolland introduced and we are grateful for, and now there are amazing wines. Even the famous wineries like Catena and Cobos are changing, they are experimenting, inventing, adapting. So right now I think the winemaking in Argentina is a lot more innovative and modern than in France, it is very global in outlook and new ideas. There has always been good terroir and some great wines made in Argentina, but the changes between 2000 and 2010 and now 2020 are significant. There are still consumers looking for fruity Malbecs with oak in their daily wines, but fine wines today are about freshness and elegance, and the road ahead looks great.Incredible Andes rock formations of Calchaqui ◆How did you come to be in Argentina in the first place?I first came to Argentina in 2004, on a 1-year trip before going to back to France to start my own winery project. I always wanted to visit South America, and really fell in love with Argentina, the landscape and the people who are beautiful and warm. I spent several months in Salta working at the Alliance Française, met Donald Hess (of Hess Family wines) by chance and we discussed high altitude winemaking ‒ I had no idea of course ‒ and he invited me to Colomé. I had little experience, I was only 27,but we had a good feeling which was very important for Donald, and he offered me a job. I thought it would be a great experience. The only condition was that I had to stay for 3 years ‒ and that was 15 years ago. When I first saw Colomé I thought “It’s crazy ‒ just imagine me living here.” In addition to the wine it is a huge social project with the people living in Colomé. At first I thought it was a crazy millionaire doing something impossible, but once I tasted the wine and saw that the project was strong, I changed my mind. I am very proud to have been part of this for 15 years, from a tiny project into something solid, not only the business but the social element. Currently we have 150 employees, so it is important to the local economy, in an area where there is no industry.Checking grapes in a vineyard◆What was Colomé like when you joinedWhen Donald Hess bought Colomé in 2001 it was a very old winery that was artisanal, very old vineyards not in good shape, so he basically had to grow everything. From those original 8 hectares in 2001, today Colomé has 150hectares spread over 4 different vineyards. In 2003 Donald also started an entrylevel line, Amalaya de Colomé. In 2009 we split Amalaya from Colomé into a winery in its own right. Amalaya has 130 hectares and its own winery in Cafayate, where Jorge Noguera is the resident winemaker. Today, Colome is owned by a new generation, Larissa (Donald’s daughter) and Christoph Ehrbar.When I started in 2005 we were only producing 3 wines in Colomé, and my first vintage was 50,000 bottles. Now we have more than 20 wines, and close to1.5 million bottles (Colomé and Amalaya combined). So we have grown a lot. We had to discover everything. There was viticulture but the vineyards and trellises were in bad shape, so we changed to a VSP system. It also required finding the terroir. At El Arenal, not only was there no viticulture, there was no agriculture, it was just flat land and bushes. Everybody told Donald not to grow grapes there, but he bought the land, found water, and started planting vineyards. At Altura Máxima they were growing quinoa, paprika and beans, but no viticulture at all, so we needed to start from the beginning. It really was a pioneering quality to find this very particular terroir.Because these areas had no history of viticulture, we started from nothing and had to invent everything. The first time we received fruit from El Arenal it was really complex, very concentrated, so it was difficult to understand how to manage it to make it into high quality wine, and Altura Máxima was a different story again. Always challenging, every year there is something new. With time we have come to understand the terroir and how to manage it, and to work with the people and the place. All the people working in the vineyard and the winery are locals, born on farms. Working with them is different than Europe, and I have to adjust my rhythm to theirs ‒ nowadays I have a nap every day like everybody else.The highest vineyard at 3111m above sea levelEl Arenal vineyard (2600m altitude)Colome vineyard (2300m altitude)La Brava vineyard (1700m altitude)◆What are the characteristics of the vineyardsAll our fruit is estate fruit, which lets us manage the quality in the vineyards, the planting, pruning and irrigation. Here in the Calchaquí Valley we average150mm of rain a year ‒ it is very, very dry, and it only rains n January and February, so the rest of the year we need to irrigate the vineyards. It is great to have such healthy weather, as we don’t need to spray the vineyards.Altitude also contributes to the character of the wine ‒ the higher you go the less ozone there is, so more ultra-violet radiation, and the fruit protects itself by producing a thicker and darker skin, that gives the colour, concentration and tannin structure to the wine. We also have big temperature differences between day and night, 20 to 25C, so the fresh, cold nights help the fruit retain acidity, freshness and elegance. It’s a good balance between elegance and concentration.◆How has your winemaking evolved since 2005?Colomé was part of the Hess Family, and at that time Hess had wineries in Australia, California and South Africa. Here in Colomé the winemaking was heavily influenced by Californian winemaking ‒ a lot of ripeness, waiting, waiting for harvesting and a lot of oak. This was really the first style at Colomé. Prior to arriving I also worked in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and in 2003 it was all about over-extraction style, a lot of pumping over, high temperature fermentation, and quite a lot of oak. I started with this style in Colomé, and my biggest challenge was to adapt to the terroir and style of wine we wanted here.Over time I have really learnt about going easy with pumping over, harvesting earlier and earlier looking for freshness before fatness and full body wines, and less new oak, and even no oak. There are some influences in my background from Burgundy, especially terroir and how every parcel is different, taking a more precise approach to viticulture, and from Bordeaux my knowledge of blending.Of course we experienced a lot here, and I had to change my approach to winemaking, because it is very different here. We don’t have to manage disease, there is no botrytis, so we can get fruit with perfect maturity and round, well-balanced tannins, we don’t have to over extract to get colour. In that way it is easier here because the weather is very stable.◆Just how remote are you?When you come to visit you fly into Buenos Aires, then it is a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Salta city, the Province’s capital, and then a five-hour drive to Colomé, half of it on gravel mountain roads. Colomé is in the middle of a valley - El Arenal is two-hours drive north, and then another 30minutes to Altura Máxima. Going south, from Colomé to Cafayateto the Amalaya winery and Colomé’s La Brava vineyard is a two-and-a-half-hour drive. So it is a lot of driving.All the Colomé fruit from Colomé, El Arenal, and Altura Máximagoes to the Colomé winery, and the Cafayate fruit to the Amalaya winery. Each year we harvest approximately 2 million kilos of fruit, 2000 tons, and we produce 1.3million liters of wine between both wineries.◆What are your logistics like?It’s a nightmare ‒ very, very difficult. You have to imagine that we were only connected to the electricity grid last year ‒ until then we had to generate our own electricity with a hydro-electric power plant. We still produce 60-65% of our own electricity. From Mendoza to Colomé is 20 hours, and everything comes from Mendoza ‒ the bottles, the corks, the barrels. These days we have our own truck. When we first started with logistics contractors the bottles would be all crushed on arrival. Now it is improving, the roads to Amalaya in Cafayate are good, so we do as much bottling as possible in Amalaya, and do our labelling here. It is still difficult to transport fruit from Altura Máxima to Colomé‒ it is 5 hours in the truck. The fruit is picked and handled in very small boxes to ensure it arrives in good condition. The thicker skin helps a lot, a thin skin on a gravel road wouldn’t b fruit when it arrived.Though things are better the internet is still patchy, there is no cell phone service in Colomé. Given this, it is amazing we still have about 8000 people visit us every year‒ it is difficult to get here but people love it. Right now we are closed because of Covid19. They come to see the James Turrell** museum, and stay in our exclusive 9-roomhotel. Visitors appreciate the unique environment, and our wines.◆Was it a big surprise when the Lote Especial Tannat 2018 won Best in Show at the World Decanter Wine Awards?***Winning Best in Show for all South American wines was a big surprise, it was quite amazing given the competition. I would expect it with a Malbec,but never a Tannat. We knew we were making one of the best Tannats in Salta, but not at this level.The award for the Amalaya Malbec 2019 is even more fantastic (Platinum Award at World Decanter Wine Awards) ‒ 97 points for a wine at this price point and production, 60,000 cases, is just amazing.* Old Vitis Vinifera brought from Spain by Catholic missionaries. It is called Criolla in Argentina and Pais in Chile.** James Turrell is a contemporary American artist who works primarily with light and space. He has many works in Japan.*** An international wine contest sponsored by the British wine magazine Decanter. In2020, 16,800 wines were entered. 50 of them were selected as "Best in Show". 98 points is the highest score.≪From Village Cellars≫After learning that Lote Especial Tannat 2018 won the “Best in show - 98pts”*** at the Decanter World Wine Awards, we wanted to talk with Thibaut for the first time in a while. When we first visited Colomé in 2016, we tasted and bought the Lote Especial series of wines, and the Tannat established a good reputation in Japan straight away. Thibaut explains: “At first I saw Tannat as a very late ripener, to get more black fruit and body ‒ which was nice for blending‒ but with time we learnt to pick it earlier and to get more elegance, floral red fruit, minerality and high acidity, and started making a 100 percent Tannat wine.” His 100% Argentine Bonarda also shows the potential of this ‘blending’ variety.