Estela Perinetti, 38, is the winemaker at Bodegas Caro, a joint venture in Argentina's Mendoza region started by Bodega Catena Zapata and Bordeaux's Château Lafite Rothschild. Perinetti is one of few women winemakers in Argentina. But she's proven that she can do the job as well as or better than anyone else, as her wines consistently score in the high 80s and low 90s on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale. Maybe it's because her family has winemaking roots reaching back to Italy, but she also draws upon the philosophies and ideas she's gained working with Lafite. She was named winemaker of Bodegas Caro in 2001, after making the high quality value Don Miguel Gascón wines at Bodegas Escorihuela for three years.
Wine Spectator: What was your first vintage in the wine business, in any capacity?
Estela Perinetti: As a viticulturist and winemaker in 1992. My first six years I worked as a vineyard manager, during which time I took courses in oenology in Italy and Spain, but I didn't work as a winemaker until 1998. There were some difficulties--the best jobs at the important companies were exclusively [held by] men. But this situation helped me to take a different perspective--if I wanted to get those jobs, I had to have more knowledge and experience than my colleagues. To compete with men, I have to perform better [than they do]. So I spent those years working as an independent consultant for several grapegrowers and taking time to take courses abroad. Finally, in '98, I decided it was time to try again so I sent my résumé to the one [person] I respected most, Nicolás Catena, and he hired me immediately.
WS: What got you interested in being a winemaker?
EP: I come from an Italian family originally from Piedmont. Our family began growing grapes and making wine in Argentina at the beginning of the last century. Grapes and wine have always been an integral part of my family's background. I was raised in an environment in which I learned to love and respect wine.
Later, when I became an agricultural engineer, I spent time in Europe visiting and studying several wine regions. I learned a great deal about the relationship of wine with culture, history, land and even aesthetics. These experiences solidified my passion for wine. In Argentina I was working as a vineyard manager and I began to see the big division that existed between winemaker and vineyard manager. I believe that to create a great wine you need to integrate both, and this is why I became a winemaker.
WS: Who have been your biggest influences as a winemaker?
EP: The DBR (Château Lafite) production team. I have been deeply influenced by their wine-production philosophy--that wine is an expression of each variety and location and culture, and to respect the concept of terroir.
WS: Along with Susana Balbo and Andrea Marchiori, you're one of the few women currently running a winery in Argentina. What's that like?
EP: It was difficult in the beginning, and it took me some time to be respected professionally as much as a man is. I had to prove I could make good wines, and I had to show that I could do every job in the winery as well as anyone else. It took some time, but I eventually became "one of the few" and this has been especially rewarding.
WS: What is your favorite food pairing with Argentinean Malbec?
EP: Roasted lamb.
WS: What is your favorite wine (other than one of your own)?
EP: Château Lafite by far. I also like very much the good vintages of Sauternes, like Château Rieussec '67.
WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
EP: I am not sure that I would like to be somebody else in the wine business. But if I had to choose, and given that I am a Bordeaux lover, I would love to be part of the Château Lafite production team. Why? They make the wine that I like the best.
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