I sat down with François Lurton in my office yesterday to get caught up on his latest work in Argentina and Chile.
Lurton is a member of a well-known Bordeaux family: His cousin, Pierre, currently manages Châteaus Cheval-Blanc and d’Yquem, while his father, André, still owns a few Bordeaux properties, including Château La Louvière. But François, along with his brother, Jacques, struck their claim outside Bordeaux—their J.&F. Lurton label currently produces wine in Spain, Portugal, the Languedoc, Chile and Argentina. Recently, Jacques has gone back to Bordeaux to focus on the family interests there, while François will now manage the overseas projects by himself.
It’s a big operation with a lot of wines, and for me (speaking of the Chilean and Argentinean wines that I cover) sometimes the low-end wines can be variable in quality—there have been some good values, but some weaker wines too. At the top end, the wines are typically very good to outstanding.
Lurton got his first taste of Argentina while working as a consultant with Nicolás Catena in the early 1990s. But he saw the potential for Argentina, and so he soon began buying grapes to make his own wines, renting space in Catena’s Bodegas Escorihuela facility. By ’96, Lurton had bought land and planted vines in the Uco Valley, before even Bodegas Salentein and the Michel Rolland/Bodega Monteviejo group of investors set up their large operations there.
Lurton bought when prices were high, then suffered through the devaluation. But he held fast, and today his Argentinean winery is producing 4 million bottles annually, from more than 430 acres of estate vineyards, as well as purchased fruit.
“In Argentina, we’re like California 30 years ago,” says Lurton. “There, after finding Cabernet [was the best grape] everyone went for extraction. But when they realized they didn’t need to compete with the French any more, they finally pulled back a bit, which is what is happening today. Argentina is like that with Malbec right now—going for the bigger wines.”
I’m not so sure though—there are plenty of big Malbecs, but there are plenty of elegant ones too. Viña Cobos makes a powerhouse style, while Achával-Ferrer makes superracy, minerally wines. I see plenty of both in Argentina, as the winemakers start to fine tune their understanding of the various terroirs they have.
Lurton’s top wine, the Chacayes Mendoza 2003, is mostly Malbec with some Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the winery’s best vineyards in the Uco Valley. It’s packed and structured, with lots of raspberry, currant and graphite notes. It’s the best wine yet from this operation, and I hope we see more like it.
My feeling is that being based in Bordeaux while overseeing a far-flung empire makes it difficult to maintain consistent quality. But Lurton now has deep roots in Argentina (his Chilean project is younger, started in ’97, and it too is improving) and he seems focused.
“Everyone always asks me where am I going next for a new project,” says Lurton. “But no more new projects—I am going to concentrate on the places I am in now.”