The nomadic winemaker

After studying enology in France, Buenos Aires-born agronomist Lucas Pfister from Vino 40/40 was all set for a permanent move to Europe — until he had an unfortunate setback. Regardless, he headed for the old world and now works for a winery in Italy’s Alto Adige region.

Lucas says: “Back in 2009, I studied enology for two years in France and became good friends with a guy from northern Italy. After returning to Argentina and working in Mendoza, in 2015 I finished making my wine and quit my job. But two weeks before I was due to travel on a one-way ticket to Paris to be with a girl, she called to say she’d met someone else.

Lucas Pfister.

“I took the flight anyway and decided to travel around Europe and spent two months visiting small biodynamic wineries. My Italian friend then called me about a small 10-hectare project in Alto Adige, so I met them last August. It was meant to be for four months and I was going to return to Argentina after the harvest. But they asked me to stay on and I signed a renewable annual contract so I can carry on with my own project, 40/40, in Mendoza.”

Lucas lives in Bronzolo in Alto Adige, a small town close to the border with Austria. He says: “Here, they speak German and Italian and the winery is based here. In the beginning I stayed at a friend’s house, sleeping on an inflatable mattress. It’s all been a bit of a gypsy experience to be honest and everything I own fits into two suitcases — that’s what the past eight years have been like.

“Right now I live in a fourth-floor apartment surrounded by mountains and there’s lots of light. Mountains are formed from limestone and porphyry, it’s a place where the differences come together, so it’s very interesting for both wine-making and as a place to live.


“Working here is very dynamic because I might get invited to a pruning course in Germany and then hop over to Barolo to taste wine, or to Burgundy to see a friend; you can try so much in just a few miles. And I can get all the supplies I want here. Right now I’m working with some cooper brothers to make the barrels exactly to my spec. It’s very hard to do that in Argentina, plus it also costs a lot. But here I can tell my boss I’m going to spend some time with the coopers and learn the knowhow behind it. Learning what goes on behind the scenes is amazing and I would never have picked all that up in Argentina.

“There are lots of varietals here so it’s a great challenge to interpret wines from somewhere where you aren’t from. And it’s also helps me realise the world is globalised. I speak to the winery owners in German, my providers in Italian, Moroccan farm hands in French and they suddenly start praying in the middle of the vineyard, to the Polish — who often gift me vodka — in English and an interview with you in Spanish! All that keeps me alive. There’s migration in Mendoza, a different kind, but always in the same language.”

One of the cultural differences Lucas has had to adapt to Bronzolo is Alto Adige’s residents. He says: “People are quite traditional and it can be hardto get to know them. They often say ‘Call me, let’s do something’ but don’t actually do it — one has to make the effort. However, it’s also very healthy environment here so when I do business with someone, I know they won’t screw me over. It’s beautiful, though, and looks like something out of Heidi. It’s the Alps for sure.”

Travel bug

A self-confessed nomad, Lucas has travelled around Italy and some regions stand out for him.

“I liked Siena and Tuscany a lot, while Piemonte and Barolo are spectacular. Rome’s food diversity continues to amaze me — I lived in France for two years and thought that was the best there was but flavours are more direct here. Every region has something different; you can talk to someone for hours about making their cheese or where their polenta comes from. There’s a lot of tradition behind it.”

One aspect of Argentina the agronomist misses is the easygoing social life.

“I miss someone inviting you home to meet their family and eat with them,” he says. “To do that here takes longer as people are harder to get to know. I also miss Patagonia, the Delta, Mendoza. Looking up at the sky and not seeing planes. There’s a lot of people here so I miss having space.”

As for his most Italian characteristic, Lucas says: “Finding my way through legislation! Italians have way more red tape than even we do but there’s always a way round it!

“For example, I had to fraction wine last year and controls needed to take a sample from one tank. They said I needed to have 3,000 litres written on the tank as that was the amount I was dividing up albeit from a larger tank. They basically said I could write the figure on the side of the tank, and I replied ‘ Do you want me to lie?’ They said, ‘Yes that’s fine’.”

Buenos Aires Herald, 4 November 2016

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