We had heard rumors about a new place in the Humahuaca Canyon knocking the lovely Colome winery off its perch as the highest vineyard in the world……and also that the winery had its cellar located in an abandoned mine at 12,630 feet above sea level – we just had to see it!
Well it is all true – we traveled up last weekend, Malka and I, to meet the owner Claudio Zucchino and his lovely family, try his wine, see the winery and the vineyards and then enter the dark, dusty, high altitude mine-wine cellar.
Son of a miner (hence the design of the label and choice of cellar location), Claudio has incorporated his winery within a framework of projects designed to benefit the local community, as well as turn a modest profit of course. When talking with Claudio about all his projects, his organic winery and vegetables, bio-dynamics and rural community tourism, he is obviously intensely enthusiastic – he cares about the environment and people where he lives and farms – Facebook Album of the visit
The highest vineyards named Moya are planted up at 3329 meters above sea level, that’s some 10,920 feet. His wine cellar is even higher at some 3850 meters or 12,630 feet and is found in an ex-Barium Sulfate mine which only operated from 1980 until 1985 and which, by pure coincidence, was mined by the company that his father worked for.
The standard visit with Claudio takes you from his winery at 2750 meters up the winding, dirt track (with some very steep drops) through stunning scenery to Moya at 3329 meters. Here you can wander the vines a while and enjoy the view, use the bathroom etc. Then you continue to climb to the mine-wine cellar where the large metal gates await you. The journey might be too much if you have a fear of steep drops, they are not with you all the way but maybe a third of the route could give some people the jitters. Claudio is obviously a very experienced driver and drives this route all the time, we felt very safe even though I don’t make a good passenger in general.
Inside the double set of metal gates of the mine is an almost constant 13 degrees Celsius environment where humidity is varied by adding wet vegetation on the floor under the racks. At this point in time there are only the racks you see in the video below but shortly Claudio will be dynamiting 2 large chambers (after removing his bottles of course) with connecting tunnels so that many more bottles and some oak casks can be stored. Wine tasting will be set up in one of these chambers, currently it is done at the mouth of the mine as you can see in the photos.
The Viñas de Uquia “Uraqui” line of wines are a red blend, organic, unfiltered and composed of 60% Malbec, 30% Syrah and 10% Merlot. To us there seems to be less fruit and more minerality which is quite apt considering where they are produced and stored. On the visit you will have chance to taste his wine with a selection of cheeses, olives and bread, with incredible views. The whole experience of tasting up at the mine left us feeling that we had done something unique and were being connected to the terroir even more than down below on the valley floor. The air is completely pure up there, that might lend itself to the feeling, tasting at that altitude will also have an effect that is true but the enthusiasm and passion of Claudio is sure to be the major factor.
This winery and cellar is sure to get more press in the future, we are including this visit in our wine tour schedule for the Humahuaca Canyon and if you are in the area you shouldnt miss the chance to do it – it should be on the “bucket list” for wine lovers.