Colomé: Winemaking at the top of the world

Bodega Colomé was established in 1831 and is the oldest working winery in Argentina with one of the world’s highest vineyards, Altura Máxima. Today, the winery has 140 hectares of biodynamically-run vineyard planted at altitudes of between 1,750 and 3,111 metres above sea level. As well as being one of the world’s most remote wineries, Colomé is also one of the most lauded, and was chosen once again by Tim Atkin MW as a ‘First Growth’ in the classification of wineries he made for his Argentina 2019 Special Report.

The winery is located in the far north of Argentina in the Upper Calchaquí Valley and is thought to have been founded by the Spanish Governor of Salta, Nicolás Severo de Isasmendi y Echalar. In 1854 his daughter, Ascensión, brought the first pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vines to Bodega Colomé. Three vineyards (with an area of four hectares each) were planted in the same year, the fruit from which is still used to make wines.

Despite a fascinating history of winemaking in this remote part of the world, it was when Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess (of Hess Collection, Napa Valley fame) bought Bodega Colomé in 2001 that it underwent the greatest transformation. Hess not only invested hugely in the vineyards and the winery, but also in the Colomé village, which has been converted into a thriving community complete with amenities such as schools, a community centre and even an art museum. 

The winemaking philosophy of talented French winemaker Thibaut Delmotte, who has been at the helm since 2005, includes minimal intervention, the use of indigenous yeasts in fermentations and restrained use of oak. Thibaut explains that “the challenge of producing pure, refined wine in these extreme conditions is in achieving balance at every step in the vineyard, from pruning through to harvest, followed by a gentle hand in the winery. One small mistake will show in the wine - there’s nowhere to hide! But as people are now looking for more honest and respectful styles of wine, this is very exciting as a winemaker.”

Winemaker Thibaut Delmotte

Last year we made the long, bumpy ride from the city of Salta up to the Colomé winery in Molinos and the Altura Máxima vineyard in Payogasta, to spend time with Thibaut and the team. We were simply blown away by the place, people and wines. We’re delighted to be adding several new wines from the Colomé portfolio, all single-vineyard wines and characterful expressions of this truly magical estate.  

At a staggering 3,111 metres above sea level, the ‘Altura Máxima’ vineyard is one of the world’s highest and represents viticulture at its most extreme. Despite Hess being labelled “loco” (mad) by many for even contemplating such a feat, he acquired the land and planted there in 2004. The team created a dirt track through the wild and remote scrubland to reach the previously inaccessible vineyard. The extreme conditions proved too challenging in the early years, but fortune favoured the brave, and in 2012 they proved that the impossible was possible and released their first ‘Altura Máxima’ Malbec, a powerful aromatic and intense wine that is, in Tim Atkin’s words, “one of the great wines of the world”.

In addition to the ‘Altura Máxima’ Malbec, Colomé have since released a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir from this outstanding site and we are thrilled to start selling these wines. The ‘Altura Máxima’ Sauvignon Blanc is fermented and aged on its fine lees for eight months in both stainless-steel tank and barrel (second and third use). Lemongrass, nettle and refreshing citrus fruit characters are complemented by a beautiful textural quality and slight creaminess on the palate. The ‘Altura Máxima’ Pinot Noir, sourced from three different plots in the vineyard, is made with one-third whole-bunch fermentation and spends 12 months ageing in fourth use French oak. It has aromas of raspberry and cherry with hints of spice, wild flowers and herbs, and has fine tannins and refreshing acidity.

Altura Máxima vines

The ‘Lote Especial’ wines, also new to our portfolio, are made from ‘special parcels’ of fruit from the estate vineyards. The Bonarda and Tannat are both sourced from ‘La Brava’ vineyard in Cafayate, from vines grown on deep sandy and rocky soils at 1,750 metres above sea level. The Bonarda is deeply concentrated with flavours of plums, red berry fruit and a touch of spice. The Tannat is rich and juicy, with dark fruit characters alongside floral and spicy notes. The Malbecs in this series are single vineyard expressions from Finca Colomé (2,300 metres) and El Arenal (2,600 metres). Both spend 12 months in barrel (25% new French oak). The winemaking is identical, allowing the expression of the individual sites to shine through. ‘El Arenal’ Malbec is refined and elegant, while ‘Finca Colomé’ Malbec is vibrant and aromatic, with a fine tannin structure and plush mid-palate.

The Estate Series is Bodega Colomé’s core range and keeps getting better and better. The Torrontés, Argentina’s signature white variety, is grown at very low yields to ensure good concentration of aromas and flavours. Fruit for the ‘Estate’ Malbec is sourced from all four estate vineyards. Half of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in French barrels and 100% of the wine is aged for 15 months in oak, both new and second use. ‘Auténtico’ - a pure, unoaked expression of Malbec and a tribute to the winery’s ancestors - is sourced from their 90-year-old vineyard.