Those of you who shop regularly at Heaven's will know that the majority of our wines are European, specifically French. This isn't something I consciously chose, but more so where my passion has directed me. Increasingly, in life and in the shop, I've been pushing back against my instincts in order to expand my world. If I know most about European wines, I confidently say I know the least about South American wine. The history is predictable -- Spanish colonizers, unable to live without their sacred drink, brought vines with then via Chile and planted them as they pillaged indigenous peoples throughout the 16th century.

After Spanish colonization, production of wine in South America was mostly artisanal, with a few concentrated, large scale producers emerging in the 18th century. Substantial change took place late 19th/early 20th centuries, when European immigrants arrived seeking political stability and vineyards untouched by the devastation caused by phylloxera. The Governor of Argentina’s mountainous Cuyo region, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, industrialized Mendoza Valley wine production by hiring a Frenchmen, Michel Aime Pouget, to modernize and develop its vineyards. Pouget brought with him French grape varietals, most notably Malbec; Mendoza is the now the 5th largest wine producer in the world, with a well-established viticultural school and grape nursery, and Malbec has since become so strongly associated with Argentinian wine that most people don't know it is, in fact a French grape, also known as “Cot.”

Having recently had the opportunity to sit down to a lovely dinner at Lasita with Celina Bartolome of Pielhueso, I got to hear the story of contemporary Argentinian natural wine. An avid consumer of American media (mostly the Disney Channel), Celina told me in near-perfect English the story of her father's retirement and his inspired 2017 decision to acquire vineyards in the Uco Valley.

Though her father, Alejandro, had previously worked in organic agriculture, he was inexperienced with grapes/wine. Using her intuition and their familial values around organic production, Celina directed the project towards making natural wine. The Bartolomes named their estate “Pielhueso,” or “skin and bones.” It is a family operation in many ways. Alejandro and Celina are the proprietors, while her sister designs the labels using her brother's art. While Celina has carved out a space for exploration and fun, she is not a whimsical person. She's grounded and practical and reasonably believes in the need for consistency of product. Her wines are digestible and fun and perfect for warm weather and sharing with friends.

In addition to Pielhueso’s offerings, we have wines from her friend and neighbor Joanna Foster of Stella Crinita. I discovered these wines last year and instantly fell in love with their freshness and approachability. Foster began farming biodynamically with her husband, Ernesto Catena, in 2002, but it wasn't until 2017 that they began making wine. Foster, whose family hails from Malaysia, India, and the UK, was raised by her mother, whose life as an activist took her to Greece and South Asia; Catena's family is a multigenerational winemaking family that is well-established in Argentina. The couple met in 1995 when Joanna's social and environmental work brought her to his homeland. They married in 2004 and now have three children. Their interest in natural winemaking was piqued in the early 2010s, and they received their Demeter (biodynamic) certification in 2012. Alejandro Kuschnaroff is the head winemaker at Stella Crinita and he lives near the estate. For a region that is known for being hot and arid, these wines are fresh and pure, and should not be missed.