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June 9, 2021

What’s Next for Argentina? Why, Malbec...w/ Laura Catena, Catena Zapata

What’s Next for Argentina? Why, Malbec...w/ Laura Catena, Catena Zapata

Laura Catena, Managing Director of Catena Zapata, Founder of the Catena Institute, and Owner of Luca Winery, used to frequently get asked, “What’s next for Argentina after Malbec.” While Argentina has diversity in wine, its core calling card, quality, an


Laura Catena, Managing Director of Catena Zapata, Founder of the Catena Institute, and Owner of Luca Winery, used to frequently get asked, “What’s next for Argentina after Malbec.”  While Argentina has diversity in wine, its core calling card, quality, and diversity can also reside in Malbec.  From storied beginnings to becoming a new classic, Laura shares with us the stories of the history of Malbec, how Argentina and the Catena family have elevated it with tastings, books, and scientific research, and how the future of Argentina is truly...Malbec.  

Detailed Show Notes: 

  • Laura’s background
    • BA Biology from Harvard, MD from Stanford, also studied French
    • She grew up in the vineyards in Argentina, went to high school in the US
    • She wanted to help people, so she went into medicine, specifically emergency medicine
    • Nicknamed “La Lucita” by her grandfather for never standing still 
    • ER doctors have shifts that enable other hobbies or careers, thus working both in medicine and wine
  • The History of Malbec
    • A background in French enabled Laura to read French historical documents about Malbec
    • Malbec was known in Roman times, w/ Cahors the main area
    • Cahors drunk by Eleanor of Aquitaine who married King Henry II, making the wine popular in the UK as well
    • In Bordeaux, Malbec was very popular, used to make Cabernet Sauvignon smooth and ripened at the same time as Cabernet, vs. the earlier ripening Merlot
    • After phylloxera, gets replaced by Merlot
    • Saved in Argentina, where there was no phylloxera
    • It was being pulled out in Argentina due to low yields (prone to coulure) when Nicolas Catena started to do something with the variety
    • The breakthrough moment in 1999 - a Wall Street Journal article about Malbec started to change things, Catena was noted as the top wine
    • Malbec gives different flavors from different regions
      • Salta - jammy, syrupy
      • Patagonia - spicy, herbal
      • Adrianna Vineyard - some are big and tannic, others more like Pinot Noir
  • Flying Winemakers in Argentina
    • Paul Hobbs, Michel Rolland, and others came and helped with changes to the winery (fermentation, oak barrel usage, etc.…)
    • But soils and altitude were unique and different, which required new study, leading to the founding of the Catena Institute
  • Promoting Malbec
    • Catena Malbec Argentino label - tells the history of Malbec through 4 women (including phylloxera)
    • Catena Zapata
      • Initially made Cabernet and Chardonnay for export (1990-1991 vintages)
      • 1st Catena Malbec was 1994 vintage
      • Did lots of blind tastings, Laura’s mom went to stores and bought the best wine and blind tasted Chardonnays, claiming that every time, Catena won
      • By the time Malbec was introduced, the Catena brand was already known for its quality
      • The initial key market of the domestic Argentina market - provided income to support the cost of building up exports
    • Books
      • Vino Argentino - wanted an English book to highlight Argentina
      • Gold in the Vineyards - talks about special sites globally, shows concept via illustration to make it more engaging
      • A new book to be published on the history of malbec
    • Believes in not telling too many stories at once and making it interesting, usually for 1-3 years
      • Malbec Argentino - created a 20 min theatrical play of the story, hired a UK actress to perform
      • Current discussion - “Let’s Talk about Grand Cru and Gran Vins” - discussion of Catena parcella wines with Pinot Noir and Nicolas Catena with Bordeaux or Napa Cab, with Larry Stone MS
  • Catena Institute
    • Shares all research for the benefit of everyone in Argentina
    • Established to solve a specific problem: how to elevate Argentina’s wines
    • Publish all work - must be of high quality for peer reviews, wanted to share it, and made other institutes want to do research together
    • Recent Study:  Proof of Terroir through Malbec
      • It looked at 24 sites in Mendoza
      • 50% of the sites have a fingerprint that is identifiable (via 10 different anthocyanins and 20 different polyphenols)
      • Shows proof of terroir and that some terroir is more identifiable than others -> showcasing the meaning behind “Grand Cru sites”
  • Making Malbec collectible
    • Need to be patient
    • Need to do a lot of tastings
    • Ratings are important
    • Tourism is also important - building a new hospitality center at Catena, want it to be the best experience in the world, something people will travel for
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