Q&A with Felipe Stahlschmidt of Fuego Blanco
Fuego Blanco started in 2012 when José Millán went to Pedernal to visit a vineyard and immediately fell in love with the amazing landscape. In the following interview, Fuego Blanco’s winemaker, Felipe Stahlschmidt answers Opimian’s questions.
What is special about winemaking in Argentina? Tell us a bit about the terroir you are working with.
We produce wines from really new regions with young vineyards, so every year is a surprise, and despite harsh climate conditions, year after year we are getting more balance and closer to the true identity of Argentinean wines. Argentina, mostly Mendoza, San Juan, Catamarca and Salta, are desertic with extreme conditions. We are in a process where vines are adapting to the Argentinian climate and soil, so we should expect the wines will keep improving. Our only limitation is water. We need to be more efficient in each process to take care of this limited resource.
How many people work at Millán SA? What are the different brands owned by the family?
The Millán Family’s main business is grocery stores! With their Atomo supermarkets in the western part of Argentina, they employ over 3500 people and create jobs for many in the country. In terms of wine, the family has three wineries with over 250 employees in total. The wineries are located in in Perdriel (Mosquita Muerta), Guaymallen (Toneles / Don Genaro) et San Juan (Fuego Blanco).
What is one of your favourite varietals to work with and why?
The easy answer is Malbec, and it makes sense because it’s the varietal that is the best suited to Argentinian terroirs. It delivers a wide range of qualities and characteristics like aromas, flavours, colour, concentration and tannins that allows you to be an artist and paint all the different combinations. It’s easy to work with Malbec in Argentina. We also have surprises, like Cabernet Franc. We only have a few Cab Franc vineyards planted in Argentina, but it is delivering some amazing wines. With every new vintage, it’s a great adventure!
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect Argentinian winemaking in general, and your business in particular?
Covid 19 was a challenge for everybody, not only in Argentina. In March 2020 Argentina started quarantine, closed borders and limited all business activities. We where in the middle of our harvest and people were really scared. We thought that the 2020 vintage was not going to be made and that we should close the winery. Luckily, with the help of all our staff, we reduced the number of employees at the winery to a minimum and took all the necessary measures to make sure that everybody was safe. We did our best in order to harvest as fast as we could to process the grapes that we need for each winery. Among the activities allowed by the government, winemaking was one of them, so everyone worked very hard to finish. We are now enjoying the 2020 vintage, a year that will always remind us that nothing is impossible!
What do you enjoy most about being a winemaker?
The association between wine and pleasure! The amazing thing about being a winemaker is that we make something that is only there to be enjoyed and to delight. Wine is a word that is often associated with good times: when we open bottles of our favourite wines to celebrate, as winemakers we are part of this experience. On another note, to be surrounded by nature and great landscapes is certainly a perk of the job.
What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Climate conditions. We can work very hard to make the best wines and harvest the best grapes, but hail and frost can take it all away in a few hours. It’s the only thing we cannot avoid. Once the grapes are harvested, our work is just to express what Mother Nature gave us. You can make bad wine with great grapes, but you can’t make good wine with bad grapes! Our mission is simple: to stay true to our terroir.
Tell us about your Don Genaro and Elodia wines – what was the outlook in creating each, and how are they best enjoyed?
Don Genaro was a cousin of José Millán that took care of one of the estates and always rode his bicycle to see the vineyards. José Millán created Don Genaro wines in his memory. The spirit of these wines is “tradition”, so the idea was to create a fruit-forward wine with typicity with each varietal. With Don Genaro wines, we try to deliver Argentinean traditions through a glass of wine.
Elodia wines is a project that started in 2016 with the idea to harvest only the best Malbec throughout the Millán properties and to deliver a low-intervention terroir wine. Elodia wines are all made in the same manner and are a great way to enjoy different regions of Argentina in a sip of wine!
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
My most memorable wine is from my first harvest. With all my expectations and doubts, with every harvest I remember the journey that it took for me to be here, and the great adventure. My best wine tasting experience was on my first trip to France: I was like a kid in a candy store!