Bodega Chañarmuyo: the adventure of a long-held viticultural dream 

Bodega Chañarmuyo

The winery’s website shares an anecdote from Jorge Chamas, the founder and owner of Bodega Chañarmuyo, that perfectly encapsulates the excitement of venturing out into unknown, inhospitable territory: “After an excellent landing at Chilecito airport at midday in the teeth of a strong Zonda gale, the pilot, my charming friend Gustavo Papini, and I still had 60 miles to go by land. Up above, a pair of condors who had escorted us through the air circled majestically, their wings outstretched. As we left the airport, the police at the checkpoint said they’d never heard of our destination: Chañarmuyo!”

Bodega Chañarmuyo: the beauty of the unexpected 

Bodega Chañarmuyo

Located in the Famatina area in La Rioja, Chañarmuyo was a village that had water but fewer than a hundred residents. Jorge Chamas came across it while he was looking to invest in wells for drinking water but was caught off-guard by the temptation to buy some land and make an entry into the world of wine. He’d been told about a remote valley full of stones and thornbushes that nonetheless had excellent potential value as a location for vineyards.

Although he was reluctant at first, and had no experience in winemaking, Chamas was eventually persuaded to take the plunge with the new venture. “A lot of people come up to me now to congratulate me on my vision but the truth is that I didn’t have the least idea what I was getting into or why I was doing what I was doing.”  

The challenge of the terroir

Bodega Chañarmuyo

Located in said remote valley in La Rioja Province, Chañarmuyo represented a unique challenge from the outset: the land. As Jorge puts it, neither the locals nor the specialists thought the rugged landscape would be very suitable for viticulture. One contractor with plenty of experience even declared that it would be impossible to grow vines on such inhospitable terrain and decided to quit the project. He told the young, enthusiastic but very green Jorge that he’d be best off leaving with him.  

However, Chamas knew that he had to surround himself with specialists if he was going to take full advantage of the terroir, which is why he chose a pair of excellent industry professionals to help him get the project going: the elder Santiago Mayorga and Roberto de la Mota to take care of the enology.

However, Chañarmuyo’s story took another twist when an Italian, disappointed by a bad experience growing fruit in San Rafael, Mendoza, offered to plant vineyards along with local residents.

Although at first there were no young people living in Chañarmuyo; they had all left in search of work, the arrival of the winegrowing enterprise offered a ray of hope to the local community. It took time, Chamas explains, but Bodega Chañarmuyo eventually achieved its objective: to revitalize the village and become a driver of local employment.

“It was common in the northwest of La Rioja and the southwest of Catamarca for young people to be driven away by a lack of work. Grandparents ended up raising the grandchildren because the parents had to find work a long way away. All that caused difficulties for the community.”

It took resilience, patience and a powerful sense of purpose to train and educate the people in this new, unheard-of challenge: to make high end wine in an entirely new area.

Bodega Chañarmuyo and their portfolio: high altitude diversity

Bodega Chañarmuyo

Today, Bodega Chañarmuyo has established four well-defined lines. An entry-level line that sells wines for between 12 and 14 dollars in the USA, another of between 18 and 24 dollars, another between the 35 and 40 dollar range and then the premium flagship wines of between 60 and 80 dollars.

Matías Prieto, who has been the winery oenologist for over five years now, also took on the challenge of persuading Jorge Chamas to produce a sparkling wine whose very first vintage was chosen as one of the best in Argentina.

Chamas believes that in addition to taking advantage of the generosity of the terroir, his duty – and that of his team – is to work hard, do things well and empower the community. “High end agriculture has no room for mistakes and you have to tame high altitude wines, to make them elegant while maintaining the robust body, consistency and vigorous expression.” 

Chañarmuyo wines are the fruit of well executed technical expertise but also a profound connection with the land and the local community. Matías Prieto celebrates the fact that La Rioja has found its own viticultural identity, offering a wide range of varietals that reflect the region’s unique terroir.

The future: challenges and opportunities

Bodega Chañarmuyo

Today, Chamas can look back on how hard it was to get to know this difficult, rebellious terroir. At 64 years old, he admits to now having a steadfast passion for a business he never thought he’d get into. In spite of the initial challenges, thanks to the lessons learned over the years, Bodega Chañarmuyo can look to the future with optimism and determination.

With an increasingly prominent presence in the market and a commitment to quality and innovation, the winery is ready to continue to defy convention, drawing on its history, spirit and thirst to keep exploring new frontiers in the world of wine.  

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