Dr. Nicolás Catena Zapata / Photo by Steve Stills Photography
Credit Steve Stills Photography
Owner, Bodega Catena Zapata
Forty years ago and long before Malbec became a household name among wine lovers, an Argentine economist and winery owner working as a guest professor at the University of California, Berkeley, made a bet with himself and his homeland: that his native Mendoza, if it followed a path similar to the one Napa Valley started on during the 1960s, could produce world-class wines with consumer demand and prices to match.
It was a bold gamble for Dr. Nicolás Catena Zapata, whose Italian-born immigrant grandfather founded the family’s original Argentine wine company in 1902. Argentinean wine in the early 1980s was largely a domestic product. Furthermore, Argentina’s wines were not the gems they are today, nor was there a crop of young Argentines champing at the bit to make winemaking a career.
Most ominous for the prospects of Catena’s gambit, the idea of elevating varietal Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec into wines that could be compared to the best bottlings from the Old and New Worlds was as foreign as baseball in Buenos Aires.
None of that deterred Catena. Upon returning to Argentina from California in 1983, he was convinced that improved viticulture emphasizing low yields and grapes grown at high altitudes, combined with investments in modern winemaking equipment and talent could make celebrated wines that would lead the nation’s wine industry onto the world stage. That conviction drove what would later be named Bodega Catena Zapata and other committed Mendoza wineries.