A Grand Cru Life: Dr. Laura Catena of Argentina’s Catena Zapata Winery

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Along with her function as a Harvard and Stanford educated emergency room doctor, Dr. Laura Catena serves as Managing Director of her household’s Argentine winery Catena Zapata. Straddling the worlds of drugs and viticulture comes naturally to the energetic and at all times curious Catena, who splits her time between San Francisco, the place she at present volunteers as a Division of Public Well being doctor for populations in want whereas elevating her three kids, and Mendoza, the place her household vineyard produces high-altitude, world-class wines that rival Europe’s best grand crus.

What was the impetus for becoming a member of the household enterprise and did your father play a task in influencing this choice?

I had not initially meant to comply with in my father’s footsteps, and he performed his playing cards proper by letting me select my path. After graduating from Harvard College, after which with a Medical diploma from Stanford, I made a decision to specialise in Emergency Medication. The turning level got here within the Nineteen Nineties once I began accompanying my father to worldwide wine occasions within the U.S. and Europe. A visit to France launched me to among the nice winemaking households and wines of Bordeaux. My enthusiasm for the household wine enterprise grew. I used to be conscious of the perceived business view on the time – that Argentina didn’t have the appropriate terroir to provide nice wines. But, impressed and inspired by my father’s ambition and his many years of winemaking analysis, I couldn’t resist becoming a member of his mission.

Inform us about your quest to create South America’s first grand cru with Catena Zapata’s Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec mix, Nicolás Catena Zapata. When have been you first impressed to provide this wine that honors your father?

My father grew up the son of a wine household, working the vineyard and vineyards in a small village in Argentina. His grandfather, Nicola Catena, had immigrated to Mendoza, Argentina, with the dream of constructing his personal wine. My father later studied at Columbia College and was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. Impressed by the 1978 Judgment of Paris the place Californians challenged the French Grands Crus and received, my father, requested himself: “If the Californians can do it, why not me in Argentina?”

He began a winemaking revolution in Argentina which resulted within the rebirth of Malbec and within the discovery of distinctive high-altitude terroirs within the elevated foothills of the Andes mountains.  I began working with my father in 1995 after ending medical college at Stanford and a residency in Emergency Medication at Harbor-UCLA.

Catena Zapata Winery

In 1995 Catena Zapata was invited to the New York Wine Expertise, an unique tasting occasion the place no different South American vineyard had been invited earlier than. I attended on my father’s behalf – and folks would stroll by, see the place our wines have been from, and carry on strolling as a result of they didn’t know something about Argentine wine. I spotted that elevating the notion of Argentine wine amongst critical wine lovers was lots more durable than I had thought. This was the second the place I stated to myself, “If I don’t assist my dad, he’s not going to make it. Argentina isn’t going to make it.” So, I dedicated to becoming a member of my father and his dream of manufacturing grand cru-level wines in Argentina.

The Nicolás Catena Zapata is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec mix. My father actually loves this mix which is so distinctive from Argentina, as a result of though Malbec was extensively planted in Bordeaux, France, it’s a forgotten grape over there. The mix makes a wine of character and energy that may age but additionally has class and extremely easy tannins. Malbec was utilized in Bordeaux the place it was much more extensively planted than Cabernet Sauvignon within the 19th Century, due to its easy tannins and intense darkish colour, and fruit aromas. That is my father’s favourite wine and he chooses the mix yearly by tasting each barrel and part. That’s the reason the wine carries his title.

What are the situations that lend a wine like Nicolás Catena Zapata its stature as a grand cru of South America?

Nicolás Catena Zapata is derived from the acute high-altitude vineyards within the Andean foothills that my father pioneered when he was the primary to plant within the Gualtallary district of the Uco Valley. Cautious winery choice is adopted by barrel choice. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are sourced from previous vines within the La Pirámide Winery, which surrounds the pyramid-shaped Catena Zapata vineyard, whereas the Malbec grapes are sourced from the Catena household’s Adrianna and Nicasia Vineyards. The Malbec vines, planted with Catena’s proprietary alternatives, are situated at altitudes various from 3,000 to five,000 ft elevation. The soils within the La Pirámide Vineyard are predominantly clay, and the soils within the Adrianna and Nicasia Vineyards are limestone and gravel. My father appropriately believed {that a} winery at this altitude and with these traits would produce wines which have energy, texture, and richness not like some other in Mendoza. This confluence of qualities is what I imagine makes this wine a grand cru equal in South America: a real reflection of place and the easiest of its form.

The Malbec grape, for which Argentine wine is well-known, really originated in Bordeaux. How did Malbec make its solution to Argentina and why has it thrived so effectively in Argentine terroir?

Malbec, the variability that right this moment represents Argentina in most individuals’s minds, was at one time solely referred to as a French selection. Malbec had been well-known all through the Center Ages as the favourite of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In Bordeaux, it was an necessary part of the mix till the late nineteenth century, when it misplaced favor to the earlier-ripening Merlot. Historic data present that Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon was crucial mix in Bordeaux throughout the 18th and early nineteenth centuries. By the late 1800s, Malbec, a range that may be severely affected by spring frost, was principally changed by Merlot in Bordeaux. After the phylloxera drawback of the 1870s, Malbec, which was extremely prone to spring frost and had resulted in a collection of small harvests, was principally changed by Merlot in Bordeaux.

The inspiration to mix these two French varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, was a remark by wine critic Hugh Johnson. Merlot has a softening impact on Cabernet Sauvignon, and Hugh Johnson recommended that Malbec may very well be used once more for this goal, however in an Argentine context. Malbec has thrived within the Argentine terroir attributable to its calcium carbonate alluvial soil; the cool mountain local weather and solar mix the ability of Cabernet Sauvignon with the gorgeous fruit and velvety tannins of Malbec. My father’s initiative was led by a want to make wines of excessive pure acidity and tannin, that are wines that age in addition to superb Bordeaux.

Catena Zapata Wines

The Catena Institute of Wine not too long ago revealed a examine proving the existence of terroir by the chemical evaluation of wines. The time period principally refers to the concept the traits and atmosphere surrounding a winery have an actual influence on the wines it produces. Are you able to inform us extra concerning the examine and what its implications may very well be for superb wine lovers sooner or later?

In 1995, I handpicked a gaggle of winemakers and viticulturalists to create what right this moment is named the Catena Institute of Wine, and we started to check each facet of Malbec and high-altitude viticulture and winemaking. This examine displays ten years of labor that has yielded irrefutable proof, by detailed chemical evaluation of completed wines, that terroir exists – a time period that defines a sure wine aroma and taste being attributed solely to 1 particular place. We have been capable of establish small winery parcels that had such a selected and distinctive aroma and taste that they may very well be recognized yearly, over three years, by their chemical fingerprint. A examine resembling this one has by no means been carried out in any nation or about some other selection.  One of many co-authors is Gregory Jones, a famend climatologist from Oregon and one of many authors of the Noble Prize-winning Local weather Change report.

For wine customers, it means three issues:

  1. Terroir exists: this examine exhibits that terroir impact might be chemically characterised from completed wine, figuring out its origin even to a selected parcela (aka cru) of lower than one hectare, with as much as 83% certainty.
  2. Classic issues: this examine is the primary to match 4 completely different ranges of terroir throughout three vintages (2016, 2017, 2018) and establish classic with 100% certainty.
  3. Cru: the examine provides credence to what the Burgundian Cistercian monks known as cru and what we name parcela in Argentina.

You’re the creator of two books, Vino Argentino and Gold in The Vineyards. Inform us about your journey from writing about your personal homeland to writing concerning the world’s best vineyards, in addition to what we will count on out of your subsequent e-book, Malbec Mon Amour. 

I used to be born in Mendoza, Argentina, “la tierra del sol y del vino” – “the land of solar and wine” – the province the place that nation’s most well-known wines are crafted. Like many individuals who grew up in Mendoza, wine has outlined my life. I belong to the fourth era of an Italian-Argentine winemaking household. Among the many Catenas, a baby’s entrance into the world of younger maturity was marked by a sip of pink wine combined with soda at my grandfather’s house. Vino Argentino is an insider’s travelogue to the Argentine wine nation. It’s half viticultural primer, half cultural exploration, half introduction to the Argentine life-style. It’s concerning the ascent of the mighty Malbec grape into the stratosphere of world-class wines. Gold In The Vineyards, which has quite a lot of enjoyable illustrations, started to take form in Argentina throughout my childhood when my great-grandmother, Nicasia, taught me that adults may and may play. I haven’t stopped since. As a youth I used to be a tireless reader, then once I grew to become a young person and the illustrations disappeared in my grownup books, it was an enormous disappointment. From there the inspiration was born to create an illustrated e-book like those I liked a lot as a woman, this time about wine. The chapters of this e-book are made up of passions, personalities, and particular pebbles of vineyards which have blessed a household with their gold. My newest illustrated e-book, Malbec Mon Amour, is a collaboration with our head winemaker, Alejandro Vigil, concerning the historical past of Malbec, its geology, and terroir. Will probably be revealed in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

In 2017, you and your sister, Adrianna, who has a Ph.D. in Historical past from Oxford College, created the primary wine of which the label tells the historical past of a grape selection. Inform us extra concerning the expertise and significance of this wine?

We launched this wine, Malbec Argentino, in an uncommon manner: with an interactive play concerning the historical past of Malbec, as advised by the voices of the 4 girls on the label: Eleanor of Aquitaine, my nice grandmother Ana Mosceta de Catena, a personification of Phylloxera, and the brand new era of Catena girls. This wine represents my household’s journey to provide unforgettable and age-worthy Argentine Malbec. It’s a mix of our historic Malbec vineyards, Adrianna and Nicasia.

Catena Zapata Winery

As an emergency medication doctor, do you draw any attention-grabbing parallels between life within the ER and life within the winery or within the vineyard?

I selected emergency medication as a result of on this discipline you’re always considering and being energetic, but there’s additionally an enormous area for excessive compassion. I’ve devised a system that has helped me address dwelling life within the quick lane and to remain on observe. It’s known as “Accepting The B-.” If I’m within the hospital taking good care of my sufferers, that’s an A+ exercise. I can’t ever be distracted by one thing that’s occurring on the vineyard and even one thing that’s occurring with my kids. However once I begin getting wired about one thing the children missed (like lunch for a discipline journey day) or one thing that I missed, I say, ‘Is it life or dying?’ And if it’s not, simply transfer on. As for all times within the winery and the vineyard, I’m grateful and humbled to work alongside individuals who share our imaginative and prescient and are obsessed with all facets of winemaking. My dad and mom taught me to deal with all of the employees on the vineyard with the best respect, caring about their jobs, their households, and their well being. The individuals who work at our household enterprise are, in essence, an extension of our household.

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