“When I decided to become a doctor, my father was not that happy,” said Laura Catena. “My mother said, ‘You know, Laurita, he’d always thought you would come work with him ….’” The physician, author, mother and fourth-generation winemaker and managing director at Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata recalled her impressive journey in the June 23 edition of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, an Instagram Live series sponsored by Wine Access.
Speaking with senior editor James Molesworth from her San Francisco home, Catena discussed the difficulties of harvest during the coronavirus pandemic and how the market for Argentine Malbec has changed and will continue to evolve.
In March, Catena was faced with the daunting task of ensuring the safety of essential winery employees in the face of the pandemic. Luckily, harvest arrived early this year, and by the time safety measures were being instituted, only 20 percent of the crop remained to be picked. Catena’s familiarity with the transmission of viruses helped her as well. “We’ve actually been presented as the model winery by many organizations for dealing with protecting their employees,” she said.
Argentina has maintained some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, comparable to those of Italy. But Argentina’s government relies heavily on exports for its economic health, so officials have worked hard to facilitate shipping, and increased retail sales have helped offset the revenue lost to closed restaurants.
“Malbec is on fire,” Catena said of sales for the country’s premier red grape. “Argentine wine is selling really well.” But there’s still room to grow, and Catena believes the next challenge will be gaining the attention of high-end wine collectors. “I think the true next hurdle is that every collector in the world has an Argentina section [in their cellar],” Catena said, citing a track record for wines that age well as the key to achieving a place on the world’s stage of collectible wines.
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