Bodega Chacra

Argentina, Patagonia

23 hectares of Pinot Noir
16 hectares of Chardonnay
1 hectare of Trousseau (not yet in production)
Not all of the vineyards are in full production as some are very old and some replanting is still in progress.

Piero Incisa della Rocchetta is the grandson of the founder of Tenuta San Guido, the producer of Sassicaia, and Chacra is his personal project in northern Patagonia. The estate is in the Rio Negro valley about half way between the Atlantic and the Andes, and consists of alluvial beds left by the ancient glacier and by the river. There is quite a history for Pinot Noir in this region, and in 1964 there were still about 2400 hectares of planted vineyard, but then there was a sharp drop-off and by 1990 only 232 hectares remained. In 2003 Piero Incisa purchased the first of the Chacra vineyards, an abandoned plot planted in 1932, having tasted a Pinot from the area in New York and realising that the area had potential. Since then there has been something of a resurgence in enthusiasm for Pinot, and by 2009 the total Pinot Noir in the Rio Negro was back up to 1681 hectares.

Two more sites soon followed for Chacra, with old vines planted in 1955 and 1967. A fourth vineyard was then planted on the site of the original 1932 vineyard, using only vine cuttings taken from both the 1932 and 1955 plots (all the Chacra vines are franc de pied - planted on their own roots, not grafted). This last vineyard is the basis for the 'Barda' wine. The gravels and coarse alluvial pebbles, with a significant limestone content, together with a fresh, dry climate and great luminosity, allow for the minimum treatment in the vineyard and allowing for organic and biodynamic practices to be followed, which combined with a green harvest in January yields are kept very low. The region is extremely dry, being in the rain-shadow of the Andes, and apart from the area of the glacial bed which is irrigated with river water, the land around is desert. The farms in the valley bed were originally carved out in squares and flood-irrigated using a system of canals and ditches built by the British and the Italians to bring water from the river. The word used to describe them, ‘Chacra’, seems to be a generic word meaning ‘farm’ much as ‘finca’ and ‘estancia’ are used further north. Chacra still uses very limited flood irrigation (max. three times a year) which has the advantage of helping to protect the vines from nematodes and aphids (including phylloxera), but if over-used has the disadvantage of compacting the soils and reducing bio-diversity, so Piero and his team have developed drip-irrigation significantly, and also hugely reduced the amount of water used.

Originally the Pinots were made with the help of consultant Hans Vinding-Diers from nearby Bodegas Noemia, but since 2014 Piero has been in charge of the reds, with the help of technical director Gabriele Graia. Gradual changes to the organic viticulture have refined the wines over the year, and the vinification and use of barrels has also become more precise, with a proportion of the wine aged in cement vats to preserve freshness, so that there has been a gain in purity and that inimitable transparency that only Pinot can produce. Harvested manually, the reds are fermented naturally in large round cement vats (Piero calls them his 'Bentleys') with the minimum of intervention before being aged either in cement vats or Burgundian oak barrels of which about 20% are new. Malolactic fermentation takes place naturally in barrel over the course of the following six months, and the wines are then left undisturbed on their lees before being bottled without any fining or filtration.

In 2016 Piero started a new partnership with Jean-Marc Roulot to produce Chardonnay. The groundwork was done to produce the first vintage in 2017. Piero says that he would never have dared ask J-MR to make wine with him, but a chance encounter showed him that Jean-Marc was enthusiastic about a new project away from the constraints of Burgundy. Chacra had a vineyard of Merlot which never really fitted into what Piero wanted to do, so they bud-grafted this to Chardonnay, giving them an instant vineyard of forty year-old vines – it turned out that this calcareous plot is perfect for Chardonnay. They have since planted much more Chardonnay, and there is considerable excitement about these new wines, which have a taut mineral salinity and complex, nuanced flavours that you'd expect from Jean-Marc Roulot wines.

In 2023 Chacra was awarded the rare 'Robert Parker Green Emblem'.

When I thought about what was in common between the reds and the whites, I came up with three words: precision, purity and elegance. Luis Gutierrez,  (Dec 2022)

Chacra has planted 0.31 hectares of Trousseau regrafted from Merlot that was planted in 2008, but the vines are not yet in production. For now, they continue with their range of Pinot Noir and two Chardonnays produced in conjunction with Jean Marc Roulot from Domaine Roulot in Meursault. As for the Pinot Noirs, 2017 was a warmish year with some really high peaks, but they changed the irrigation policy and gave the vines a lot less water than they used to; thus, the berries were smaller and ripened to perfection, and it could very well be the finest vintage they have produced to date. Proprietor Piero Incisa della Rocchetta told me that he thinks the improvement is all through work in the vineyards in general—not only irrigation—that they have changed and improved year after year.

I had the chance to taste the whites with Incisa and Roulot, and they took time to explain the project. They have been close friends for a long time, but Incisa wouldn't dare ask Roulot to do a wine in Patagonia. But when the opportunity arose, Roulot was thrilled to explore a different place without the constraints they have in Burgundy. So, after visiting Río Negro in the winter of 2016, they got everything ready to start in the 2017 vintage. Chacra had some old Merlot that was part of the deal when they bought the 1955 vineyard, and they had produced a Merlot in the past. However, it was not a wine that fit in their Pinot Noir-only portfolio, so those 40-year-old Merlot vines were regrafted to Chardonnay and Trousseau. By chance, when they did their soils study with terroir expert Pedro Parra from Chile, they found out that plot was the "filet mignon" of their vineyard. So they got very excited about it. They are now planting more Chardonnay and regrafting some more, as they have the idea to build a small separate winery just for the Chardonnay. In 2017, they made 50 barrels that were divided into two wines. They applied Roulot's vast experience with whites and his famous obsessive fine-tuning of the pressing to avoid obtaining harsh flavors or textures in his search for elegant and mineral wines. They have not yet discussed the size of the project, but perhaps the limit might be some 200 barrels. It's a really exciting development, and the wines go straight to the top of the hierarchy of white wines from Argentina. They also had the luck to start in a very good vintage. A development that is worth following.

Luis Gutierrez,  (Jun 2018)

The flat, dry Río Negro Valley on the northern end of Patagonia won’t strike anybody as a glamorous wine region. For one thing, apple and pear orchards, along with platoons of poplar trees, far outnumber grapevines. For another, the restaurants, hotels and the usual camp followers of the winemaking life are nowhere to be found. But glamour did not draw Piero Incisa della Rocchetta to the Río Negro. The old pinot noir vines did, along with promising soils, a sparkling climate and a dream of creating a self-sustaining wine estate the way his grandfather the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta did in Italy 50 years ago. The marchese created Sassicaia, a paradigm-breaking cabernet blend that proved greatness could be achieved in Bolgheri, on the Tuscan coast. Eric Asimov, New York Times  (Jun 2018)

In 2004, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta of Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, Italy bought this 2ha property, located in Patagonia's Rio Negro Valley. Originally planted in 1932, the site had been abandoned and required considerable work to revive it. It was decided early on to make the viticulture at Chacra a 'closed circuit' - producing its own compost and making biodynamic preparations in-house. The winery tracks the biodiversity of the vineyard and aims to capture the essence in the bottle.

'We are on a river bed in a plateau that is now a desert,' says Incisa della Rocchetta. 'Our nights are cold, allowing for complex aromas of Pinot to develop and also slowing down the grapes' maturation. Our days are long, and, coupled with the sun's strong luminosity, this ensures perfect ripeness. We benefit from an almost constant wind, which in turn cleanses the valley of pests and disease and prevents the formation of mould and fungus. This allows us to practice organic and biodynamic farming with ease.'

Treinta y Dos is named after the year the vineyard was planted - 1932. Grapes from ungrafted vines are picked early and whole bunch fermented in shallow cement vats with indigenous yeasts. The wine is then aged in used barriques and bottled with minimum suphur.
Decanter World Wine Awards 2017  (Jun 2017)

Argentina hasn’t quite the range of pinot producers you find in Chile, but it does have a serious rival to Errázuriz for the best pinot estate in South America. The estate in question – Bodega Chacra – is in deepest Patagonia. Like so many good Argentine things, there’s an Italian influence: Chacra was started by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, the grandson of the creator of the great Tuscan red, Sassicaia, and with winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers, he’s settled on a decidedly elegant house style in his three pinots, with the subtle smoke, potpourri and silk of Barda, the place to begin. David Williams, The Observer  (Jan 2017)

Bodega Chacra has a fascinating, if slightly bizarre, history. The Rio Negro valley is essentially a 15-mile-wide glacial bed at about 750 m elevation in the middle of a desert. Thanks to the combination of altitude and latitude, there is marked diurnal temperature variation with summer nights averaging only 9 °C/48 °F that helps prolong the growing season. Rainfall is minimal but irrigation channels have been in place since the early nineteenth century. The region’s isolation helps to keep the air notably unpolluted. Thanks to the surrounding desert, there has never been phylloxera here so the vines are ungrafted.... (Read more here) Jancis Robinson OBE MW -  (May 2015)

Bodega Chacra, for its part, creates a Pinot Noir like no other in my experience. “ The oldest vines date to 1932 and next oldest from 1955. Matt Kramer, The Wine Specator

Chacra represents the boutique of the boutique, turning out handcrafted, delicately styled Pinot Noirs that are worth the effort to find. James Molesworth, The Wine Spectator

Hands down, this is the finest Pinot Noir from South America that I’ve ever tasted, and that includes Chile, Argentina and anyplace else. Italy’s Piero Incisa della Rocchetta of Sassicaia fame started this project in 2004, and it’s now finding a groove. This wine is as elegant as Burgundy but as full of flavor as something from California. The color is rosy, the aromas beguiling, and the meeting of oak and fruit just perfect. Michael Schachner, Wine Enthusiast Magazine