11 Years ago was my first trip to Napa. I remember I was asked at a wine cellar if our language was Portuguese and if Rio was our capital. Few people knew about Malbec and even less imagined that there was Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Argentina.
On that occasion I travelled with Alejandro Sejanovich, we stopped at Carneros, the house of Lee Hudson, such an amazing place. Lee had something like 2000 acres that he had bought in the early 80s. His brother was devoted to the real estate activity and was tempted in this adventure. He bought the acre at about USD$3000 today it’s valued at more than USD$300,000.Surrounded by vineyards and forests of cork oaks the place was a paradise, the people who cared for the vineyard were devoted to growing pumpkins, watermelons and tomatoes for competitions!I remember a pumpkin that weighed more than 500 kg…
I also attended my first Harvest Festival outside of Mendoza, basically joined by enologists, wine growers, and operators and under the melody of a Mariachi we started drinking and eating.During those times we were excited, full of ideas and testing and trying everything to find new discoveries.
I truly believe that a large part of the 98 points achieved inthe 2004 vintage was due to that trip, it was like a confirmation that all what we thought wasn’t that bad. Today, I don’t know if I am very worried about those scores, but in those times I can assure you they wouldn’t let me sleep.
My first visit to Joseph Phelps, to the Caymus vineyards of tocalon , was amazing. In the famous wine tasting rooms, by presenting your personal card, you had everything served for free…and that perfect world of Napa where today I think is a real estate business because otherwise it cannot be explain that fairy tale perfection.
I would like to make a special mention to Nicolas Catena who called me prior to this trip and told me with wise words of someone who knows of this to enjoy the opportunity to see and try the best of that region, not to get lost in the sea, and to focus on the Cabernet and its flavor…you have the opportunity to change everything he told me, and the truth is that he gave me that opportunity.
Also Laura Catena to whom I owe not only the cracks that had suffered her car (my apologies for that) but the contacts and most importantly the budget … but well, for some reason the company it is what it is.
Something noteworthy at the end of the trip is that I met with Luis Reginato who was also on a business trip, we have two funny anecdotes: one is that we drank so much that we both forgot where we parked our car in San Francisco, imagine how complicated it was to find the car!. The other, we saw that a lot of people were running around, one man with a fire extinguisher, as there was a car 30 meters away wrapped in flames, meanwhile we were just drinking wine… I will never forget how relaxed we were with the situation!
During the trip I reread Don Sabato, almost perplexed of its reinventions in the same book, its form negative in giving me hope… sure I was into the tragic heroes and tombs… while listening to the lyrics “a brillar mi amor” (“let it shine my love”)… I remember the first Los Redondos concert I attended at Huracán in the mid 90s.
Returning to current times… two years ago I travelled to the first international symposium of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa… on that occasion they gave lessons of Bordeaux , the terroir of Napa, the geology, and vertical tastings of the great wines of France and Napa.
This year Catena Zapata Winery was invited to talk about the Cabernet Sauvignon in Argentina, it was a great surprise and we felt so proud, mostly because we remembered that just 11 years ago they knew nothing about us.
They put us in a very important level, as half of the day was completely dedicated to Argentina, the people that were participating were the most influential in the world of wines of premium level. There you could find Opus One, Palmer,Staglin, Margoux ,Antinori, Marquez of Carrascal, with technical, commercial, and marketing people, as well as the owners of the wineries.
The main lines of discussion were very similar to which we had heard in the Argentina Wine Awards: the levels of alcohol, the use of oak,zoning, the understanding of each zone, and vine growing statistics in each zone. At first it was a big surprise but after I realized that everything revolved around the same topic: human intervention. The final objectives: at the end the tasting of different vintages of these great wines, the technical explanations and the philosophy of cultivation and processing dominated the talks.
The day came along for us to give our presentation and show several different Cabernet Sauvignon regions of Mendoza, also to discuss the Catena Alta of 2005 and Nicolás Catena Zapata 2009. Even though we know our wines had risen to the occasion, we felt the need to test them with the panel of experts. The test was really unexpected and received a great reception by the participants. We spent the entire morning answering specific questions about our country and viticulture.
Thinking more about my experience in this Second International Symposium of Cabernet Sauvignon, I note several points that I'd like to share for further discussions regarding our future as a region. Of course this is a humble view from someone who has not been in this profession for very long, although it has been all my own life.
· The best-scored vintages from Bordeaux had higher alcohol contents: a Cot Esturnel reached a level of 14.6 while the less-praised wines had alcohol levels of 13 or less. This is especially interesting as we are going taking the opposite approach with our wines. Part of my philosophy is to lower the alcohol levels. This is not my opinion, simply what I observed at the Symposium.
· The highest-scored vintages, a good example would be 2000, didn’t evolve as a large number of participants expected, on the other hand vintages that were previously referred to as average, like 1998, presented an incredible elegance and authenticity of terroir.
· Argentine wines are already at the level of the so-called first class. That is the reason of the title: Let’s shine…
· Our production costs are very similar, but the average price of a case in the United States is 5 to 10 times greater than ours, this will bring us serious problems in the future.
· There is a strong excitement for natural, organic wines, with low human intervention. Argentina could be very well positioned for this due to our weather characteristics.
· And yes… everyone is talking about the regions … .is it the beginning of the end of the varieties? I don't know, but apparently all are paying attention to the area more than to the varietal.
Now, I do not believe in the low or high of the alcohol, I do believe in the intervention of the man almost as a dogma, from the moment that we introduce this monocultive we are setting aside much of what is natural, but if it is necessary an ethic based on being the most dapper in our intervention, do not damage what the vine delivered to us with so much work, we have to be more natural, hence arises what we might call natural wines.
I don't like the wines that are prepared to a client or consumer, I think that basically they don’t trust in themselves and take a role or character that in first place it is not natural.
I don’t believe in high or low oak, I believe in the intervention marked by respect for the fruit, not by calling it in some other way, at levels that do not necessarily have to do with a balance sheet drawn by the concentration due to the over extraction that in any case can greatly affect to what we call wine and real sustainability.
I don’t believe in varieties and regions, if I do believe in the man within a society that defines its environment with its culture, if something of this is drawn, I mean, that is doesn’t belong, is all a lie, that although the consumer it is not interested, who makes the wine should care about this because of his conscience and dreams. I am not saying that the money does not matter, I am saying that the wine should be an obligation to be worthy in win it. I don’t know to what some call honest wine, natural, typical… but what I do understand is that our intervention must protect this drink that we consider nourishment and in my case the only thing I could do in this world, it’s the only thing I know how to do.