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A Sit Down with Christian Wölffer

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 17, 2008 2:13pm ET

Despite the tough economic times, the wine industry marches on. There are still those out there looking for opportunity—Christian Wölffer among them.

Wölffer, whose eponymous Long Island winery produces around 16,500 cases annually, makes no bones about his frustration with that region's wine industry.

"You can’t make money here doing quality," he said bluntly. "You can only make money here if you do volumes."

Consequently, Wölffer has long had his eye on potential projects elsewhere, namely Argentina. He’s been poking around in Mendoza and other parts of the country for six years now, and has finally made a few moves.

"I love the wine culture in Argentina. One, they make great wine, and two, it’s priced competitively. So you can do quality and make some money," he said.

Among Wölffer’s recent moves are a minority share in an ownership group that has bought the Cavas Rosell Boher winery, known for sparkling wine production that has historically been aimed at Argentina’s domestic market, in addition to some exported red and white table wines.

Wölffer is also developing 2,000 acres of land in Mendoza, located at higher elevations on the road leading away from the Bodega Catena Zapata facility. There are already 740 acres planted to a range of grapes, including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and more, with the first crop due this coming spring. The project, named Santa María de los Andes, will also feature a new winery facility and hotel.

Wölffer isn’t standing pat there—he’s attempting to purchase another winery in one of the northern regions of Argentina (no names can be discussed as the deal is not finalized), and he’s also developing a property just outside of Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital, that will feature several hundred residential units, a spa, golf course and equestrian center.

Wölffer doesn’t mince words—he’s in business for the sake of business. But he knows that quality is key to success, particularly when it comes to wine. His ambitious Long Island winery (he charges $100 for one of his Long Island Merlot bottlings) shows he isn’t afraid to push the envelope, both in terms of quality or marketing.

So while the vinous results from his nascent Argentina projects are still a few years off, he should prove to be an interesting player as the country’s wine industry continues to develop.

The wine industry marches on.

Fred Brown
December 17, 2008 8:55pm ET
Nice to know that he charges $100/bottle for Long Island Merlot.

It would be interesting to know if there are still people that are willing to spend the money to buy it - you can get some pretty darn good wine for that price, or much less!

At least the equestrian center will provide a natural tie to organic farming for the vineyards. I wonder if there is also a tie to the financing of the various projects?
Lorenzo Erlic
victoria canada —  December 17, 2008 10:45pm ET
Hello James: I am keen on the health benefits seemingly derived by consuming high altitude red wines; I personally serve my family Domaine Jean Bosquet Malbecs and Cab Sauvs from Mendoza at least twice a week. Why? In addition to quality the winery proudly lists the altitudes of the vineyards used in their production. I was ID'd last week yet I am in my mid-forties now; I must be doing something right, not just the fresh vegetables eaten in winter... Viva Argentina!
James Molesworth
December 19, 2008 9:49am ET
Lorenzo: The Catenas have done some research on the effects of extra UV exposure on grapes, as those grown at higher altitudes obviously receive more than those at lower altitudes (there are more polyphenols in grapes grown at higher elevations).

I am unaware of any studies that show extra UV exposure on grapes specifically correlates to any direct health benefits when drinking the ensuing wine, though there is plenty to connect moderate red wine drinking with good health (a quick search of our website will turn up numerous new items on the subject).
F N Fontana
January 6, 2009 5:00pm ET
James, speaking of Argentina, I am still a bit perplexed as to how you generally rate higher the Achaval-Ferrer reds than either Vina Cobos or Catena Zapata. Its surprising because your Rhone views seem spot on. What am I missing? I've tried these wines blind, with friends repeatedly, and we all leave scratching our heads.
James Molesworth
January 6, 2009 5:41pm ET
F N: All three wineries you mention have had their wines rated in the 95 point range by me - I don't see the difference there.

They are very different stylistically however...when I review wines I try to focus on quality first, so wines in different styles can rate equally if the quality is there...but consequently all the wines that rate equally in terms of score may not be for everyone. Clos Apalta vs. Don Melchor...Pegau vs. St.-Prefert...the same holds true for AF vs. Catena or Cobos...

That's why I always remind people to read the tasting notes as well, and focus on the wines that are in the style they prefer...

In this case, it seems to me as if the AF wines aren't your bag - that's fine. Diversity in wine is what we all want...

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