Vino. Vino. Vino.

March 21, 2016

By: Shelby Wade, Cori Green, Megan Harper, Lauren Nickell

After a once in a lifetime weekend filled with spectacular views and bonding with friends, today we had to get back to business. Today is our wine themed day or more commonly referred to as Malbec Monday by our group.  Argentina is famous for Malbec wine. We visited Catena Zapata Vineyards and Winery, Norton Vineyards and Winery, and Corporacion Vitivinciola Argentina. We sampled some of the best wines in the world ranging from Malbec to Chardonnay to a Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec blend. The quote of the day is “wine a little, laugh a lot.”

Our first stop of the day was Catena Zapata Vineyards.  This is a 110 year old family owned company.  The first grapes were planted in 1902 by Nicola Catena.  Through the years the vineyard has been passed through generations and is now owned by his great granddaughter, Laura The family owns 3,000 hectares, of this 450 hectares are for Catena Zapata, and the remainder is for other projects.. In total, Catena Zapata has five vineyard. Catena Zapata is the most awarded winery in Argentina as their wine has been awarded over 500 times a score of a 90+ in the last five years and over 30 times above a score of a 95+ in the last five years. For context, a score over 92 makes a wine elite. In 2014 they were awarded 4th in the world with a score of a 96.6.  This contest takes into account several different bottles of the same type to test consistency and avoid judge bias. Their target market is the top 2.5% of wine consumers.

wine barrels

Laura is a medical doctor and studied abroad at Harvard and Stanford Universities.  At that time due to the ban of imports, citizens of Argentina were not able to try and compare wines from other countries.  Thus, she would collect international wines as she studied abroad and taste them in comparison to theirs. When her father Nicholas Catena would visit he would bring wine as well back to Argentina. (Side note: Nicholas also taught Ag Econ at Berkley.  He dreamed of having their wines known among the best internationally.) Today, her collection as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation of the Catena Zapata’s wine is in the cellar of the 1960s Mayan influenced architecture building.

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The family has placed much emphasis on research at Catena Institute of Wine.  They do research and draw conclusions on their grape production methods and wine-making process, certification/validation of research, and publication of research.  They emphasize publishing information through journals in an effort for the whole industry to grow as a whole, not just Argentina or Catena Zapata wine industries.  Thus, they are the most published wine research institution in the world.

The soil profile has a large effect on the acidity vs. sugar ratio of the grape.  The soil profile, elevation, variety, and temperature have a large effect on the taste of the grapes.  Due to grape variety differences, Catena  picks grapes at different times throughout harvest to capture the different levels of sugar and acids. For fermentation they use oak ferment barrels, stainless steel tanks, and egg shaped concrete tanks. They have over 5,000 barrels that each have  a capacity of 225 liters. These are used for 4 years for aging and 6 years for fermentation. The barrels are washed 3-4 times a year to remove sediment and keep the environment optimal for fermentation. “Toasting” of the barrel is used to enhance flavor and give the wine structure. Catena has twenty types of wooden barrels from France and America forests that all give the wine a different flavor. They use 80% French barrels and 20% American barrels.

Catena tries to avoid replanting a crop of grapes. Instead they clone the best plants so they can keep the same genetics alive in the vineyard.  The older the grape plant the better as the quality of the grape improves with the vine’s age.  Low yield and high quality is gold for their production as it contributes to a scarce quantity of their premium wine.   In order to conserve water, they collect water that melts from the mountains.  They also use a drip system for efficient irrigation. In the high elevation crops (where the tectonic plates merged to form the mountains) the plants can draw nutrients and water from the calcium carbonate in the soil.

We had a quick lesson on taste testing wine:

  1. Tilt glass at 45 degree angle with white background and two fingers behind the wine to check clarity and intensity of color
  2. Smell the glass to get the aroma
  3. You move the class in a circle motion to get oxygen to the wine and then smell it again
  4. Taste it

The manager of United States Sales Department told us, “You can make bad wine from good grapes, but you cannot make good wine from bad grapes.”  Applicable to most areas of life; foundation first.

Our next visit was Norton.  Norton was very similar to the previous stop.  The visit was different in that they were more high tech and used steel hoppers for fermentation.  Their harvest season is also from February to April. It was very evident their target market is a very different from Catena with emphasis on mass quantities of lower value wine produced with less time in aging. .  Their fermentation bins hold between 24,000 and 36,000 liters; each batch is held in fermentation for 6-20 days. The tour guide took us down to the cellar that hold 500,000 bottles of wine. The oldest wine we saw was from 1935.  The dust from aging was a very unique sight to see.

Our last stop of the day was to Corporacion Vitivinicola Argentina in Mendoza City. There they discussed how they promote the wine industry. The wine industry lobbied Congress for a law that makes it mandatory for farmers to pay a certain amount of their revenue (a check-off) to this organization for market promotion and industry research. This company focuses on promoting small producers, specifically farmers that have 30 or less hectares which is equivalent to 75 acres. The law expires in 2020, by then their goal is to have $2,000,000,000 in receipts and 10% of the world’s market share. Right now, they have successfully reached their $2,000,000,000 goal, but currently have 3% of the world’s market share. There are 40,000 employees working in wineries, and 54,000 total workers employed by the wine industry.

After a fun filled day of experiencing the true culture of Mendoza, we finished the night up by walking 8 blocks down the road to a local favorite pizza restaurant. Most of us were still full from the T-bone steaks, potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots we had during lunch. However, we quickly conquered some cheese pizza and empanadas. With a long day ahead tomorrow on the road, sleep seemed to be the best option after dinner. Thank you Mendoza for the amazing wine, hospitality, beautiful scenery and amazing memories. Tomorrow we take on Rosario.

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