My visit to the Catena Malbec Camp was a fun and informative experience. I arrived Saturday night a little after midnight, and Sunday was a free day in the city of Mendoza. The group was 12 people, and we all had lunch and dinner together Sunday, got a chance to meet and get to know each other, our main guide was Jorge Liloy who works for Winebow, he’s based in Miami.
Monday it was up and at ’em as we moved from the city to the country staying at a small farm owned by Catena. We were immediately immersed in the Argentine culture, with our first tasting, the Tilia and High Note brands. We then watched a butchering session, a local butcher cut up a quarter of a cow, as each piece was cut they threw it right on the grill, lunch was being made at the same time! After lunch they brought in some traditional dancers and musicians from the region, though I stayed in my seat. That afternoon we played bocce and enjoyed the sun, it was a pleasant 65 degrees and sunny, tough winter! Just prior to dinner they gave us a study guide, 45 pages on the winemaking in Mendoza. I have it for sharing. They also informed us there would be a quiz later in the week so we should pay attention and read the study guide. That evening we had another tasting of all of the wines that we brought with us. I am proud to report that there were 16 wines and I was in the ballpark with my guesses on 8 of them, including one wine where I was sure it was Chateauneuf-du-Pape and no one else agreed, but I stuck to my guns and I was right, it was 2013 Domaine Pegau Chateauneuf.
The next day was “vineyard day” we spent hours in two different vineyards, one of which is Adrianna, the most important vineyard in South America. In Adrianna they have studied the soil and found that it is far from homogeneous. In certain areas there is a deeper top soil, in another there might be a higher mineral component, they have excavated a pit in each so you can walk down and see the soil type up close. That has also dictated to them which grape varieties to plant in each area of the vineyard. They make five “parcel wines” from five small areas of Adrianna, we tasted those in their respective parcels, a fascinating experience to have them explain the wine and see the soil type. We then returned to the house for dinner which included the most important presentation of the trip- Catena Malbec Argentino, while the parcel wines are important and expensive, this is their “super-Malbec” a blend of wine from just two sites, the wine is spectacular and they make a good amount of it. We will have it in the next few weeks, $120 per bottle.
Wednesday we spent the day at the famous Catena “Piramide” winery. Designed to look like a Mayan temple, thus the pyramid name. This day we tasted A LOT of wine, they were really showing off! We did a blending seminar in which we were given the Catena Alta Malbec and five of its components, we weren’t to copy the Alta rather taste the components and make a blend that we like– what would we make if we were the winemakers working with these raw materials? The assistant winemaker tasted our blends and gave us feedback, then took our notes from us and while we ate lunch they made our blends in one bottle and gifted us with it, the instructions the winemaker gave me was to hold onto my bottle for 15 years! I was also lucky to sit next to the assistant winemaker at lunch and asked him what it felt like to get the 100 point score they recently got for their River Stones Malbec, he said “you feel you deserve it and then you get it and you think you don’t deserve it.” Humbled to say the least.
We began Thursday with an Olive Oil seminar, four different Olive varieties and tutoring by one of the Catena hospitality agents, very fun! Then we took the test. Everyone was a bit nervous as they built it up quite a bit, but it really was all laid out in the study guide and if you had been paying attention during the weeks activities. I was one of two people to get a perfect score, I was thrilled, but I also knew I had paid attention all week. We packed up and returned to Mendoza where we visited another winery – El Enemigo, owned in equal partnership by Adrianna Catena and Alejandro Vigil who is the head winemaker for Catena. Enemigo also had their “Gran Enemigo” wine scored 100 points recently, and we got to taste it during the visit, I am trying to score some of that wine for Table & Vine.
Friday we were up early and on a flight to Buenos Aires, for lunch with Laura Catena, the heir apparent to her father to take over operations at some point. Laura is an emergency room doctor in San Francisco and spends much of her free time traveling and preaching the Catena gospel. Her son Luca goes to Tufts. That was the end of the formal trip, we had dinner altogether that night and some fun in BA, then flew home the next evening.
I’m already looking in to creating an event with Laura – perhaps a big Argentine Asado, maybe even outside somewhere! She and I have known each other for close to 20 years, she has been to Table & Vine a few times for tastings and events, its time she returned, and I told her that when I saw her.