Pete and I participated in a conference call on Wednesday afternoon sponsored by The Vines of Mendoza. The Vines of Mendoza is an organization founded by American Michael Evans and Argentinian Pablo Gimenez Riili in 2005. In November of 2005 they started with Acequia Wine Clubs, which delivers Argentina’s best boutique wines to club members quarterly. One year later they launched Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room in Mendoza where you can taste 100 Argentine wines by the glass. In addition, Private Vineyard Estates allows private individuals to own three to ten acre parcels planted to their specifications. Personalized vineyard management and winemaking under the direction of Santiago Achaval is included. All of this information as well as travel, lodging and dining information on Mendoza is available on their website. It is amazing how this has developed. When Pete and I were in Argentina in 2005, (we went to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls) much less information was available on wine tasting in Mendoza. The website is beautifully designed and the photography is outstanding.
The conference call was moderated by Michael Evans. Participating as guests were Pablo Gimenez of The Vines of Mendoza and Santiago Achaval of Achaval Ferrer. In addition was Sharon Sevrens, owner of a wine shop called Amanti Vino in Montclair, NJ. From her website the shop looks amazing. She carries what she considers the best regional Argentine wines. Varietals include Bonarda, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course, Malbec. Demand for all varietals has been strong. She also does a lot of wine education in the shop in an effort to introduce her customers to varietals and wine regions they are unfamiliar with. Then finally, Nick Ramkowsky of Vine Connections in Sausalito. He and his co-founder are importers of Argentinian wines and Japanese Sake among other things. Nick made the point that educating wine drinkers about the difference between Chile and Argentina has been a significant issue. Chile was first on the wine scene and many wine drinkers don’t distinguish between the two countries.
Here is a summary of the discussion points. Santiago Achaval noted that Chile was first to gain market share with South American wine sales world-wide. Chile had about 85% of sales in 2000 and Argentina about 15%. Those percentages have roughly reversed, with Argentina selling more world-wide. Catena was the first high end Argentine wine to hit the world market. Initially, and still to a degree today, Argentina is known for inexpensive wines, but in addition quality is foremost. In general the retailers stated that under $24.99 for an Argentine wine is an easier sell that above $25.00. Wine drinkers want to taste a wine before purchasing an Argentine wine priced over $25.00. Pablo Gimenez noted that in 2000 Malbec was relatively unknown, but is much better known now. Both Argentine wine makers agreed the key to keeping Malbec front and center is to continue to produce a great product, and emphasize the variety produced due to terroir. Argentine Malbecs will always be the best, but Cabernet Sauvignons are also outstanding. Retailers stated Torrontes, Syrah and Cabernet are growing, but demand for Malbec is still the greatest.
Approximately 75% of Argentine wines are produced in Mendoza, though the growing conditions within Mendoza varies greatly. There are 400 exporters of Argentine wines, but 60% of exports come from 16 producers.
Most Argentine wine is consumed in Argentina.
Even though Argentine wine consumed around the world is growing exponentially, the amount of Argentine wine consumed around the world is quite small, coming behind Italy, France and Australia.
For the future: Argentine wineries need to develop a unique story and spend time in the market place communicating that story. Communicate stories about people, terroir and sub-areas of Mendoza. Talking about price only will not advance sales of Argentine wines. The story must be about quality and the wines must be good.
Bonarda -demand has been flat. It’s strength is probably as a blending grape. It produces high tonnage per acre, but some feel it may have potential as a varietal due to it’s unique characteristics.
Rose continues to be a hard sell, Achaval does not even make one. Sharon keeps three Roses year round. Demand for the Crios Rose is strong year round, other Roses she stocks show more of a seasonal demand. Others find that demand is seasonal. In addition, Argentine vintages are behind the Northern Hemisphere warm weather season. This is an unavoidable disadvantage.
Salta and Patagonia represent opportunities to develop a great story. Their stories are authentic. Salta is the highest altitude growing region (over 5000 feet), has fantastic terroir and produces high quality Torrontes. Patagonia already has name recognition and may develop as a Pinot growing area. Both areas have potential to develop a reputation for varietals other than Malbec which would benefit theArgentine wine market.
2011 harvest outlook: about 3 weeks away for Achaval Ferrer and looks very good. Weather was difficult during spring causing lower than normal fruit-set so, yields will be down. Quality is expected to be better than usual. Plant balance and flavors are already developed and better than expected.
Pablo Gimenez stated that the Uco Valley will see lower yields also, due to bad weather in December and January. Will have good concentration of tannins and they are about 30-45 days from harvest. He is very optimistic for the vintage. Quality should be excellent.
This was an interesting discussion by growers and merchants in the business. They are all optimistic about the future of Argentine wines and believe the quality is excellent. All believe the key to success is to produce great wines, communicate a personal story and don’t try to compete on price alone. It makes me want to get busy planning that trip to Mendoza!