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Dr. Laura Catena – The Face of Argentine Wine

Dr. Laura Catena – The Face of Argentine Wine

Narissa Sawh

Laura Catena is a fourth generation winemaker from Mendoza, Argentina, and has made quite the mark in the wine world.

Born into a prestigious wine-making family, she followed her dream of becoming a doctor. After completing her residency she represented Argentine wines on behalf of her father at the prestigious Wine Spectators annual New York Wine Experience in 1995. As the daughter of one of Argentina’s wine
pioneers, Nicolas Catena Zapata, who led the way to high altitude grape growing in the Uco Valley region, she quickly realized that no one really knew Argentina made quality wine! With this revelation, she decided to support her father and not only change the ‘bulk table wine‘ perception, but also have an active hand in changing history, putting Argentina on the wine map.

This was no easy feat. Laura Catena knew very little about viticulture and relied on what she knew best – science. She commissioned studies on climate, soil, high altitude winemaking and sustainability. She worked tirelessly with other local winemakers who had some of the oldest vines in Mendoza to control irrigation in efforts to influence quality over quantity, getting the best expression of their terroirs. A short 15 years later, Bodega Catena Zapata was crowned the ‘New World Winery of the Year’ in 2010. If this was not impressive enough, that same year they were also on the Top 100 multiple times in both Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits.

In the midst of all of her great work with Bodega Catena, Laura started her own winery in early 2000 named Luca, after her oldest son. Luca vineyard elevations are between 3,500 – 5,000 feet and amongst the highest in Mendoza. The average age of her vines are 50 years. Luca grows six varieties of grapes (one white and five reds). She believes in small production low yielding old vines that elevate the quality the vineyard is known for. She admirably continues to drive the momentum to uncover the best expression of each varietal, with uniquely high altitude terroirs and viticulture. Her most premium wine is named Nico, after her grandfather, father and daughter, it is 100% Malbec and sourced from 77 year old vines grown at 3,500 ft.

The vineyards are irrigated with purified water from the Andes. The dry sunny days encourages the ripening of aromatics. The long cool nights allow the vines to preserve acids keeping the sugars in check. The longer hang time of the grapes produces tannins that are richer, more developed and have greater
complexity. Every wine should exude their own personality, and Laura Catena’s full expression of elegance, balance and finesse comes through in her wine. When she says ‘the people of Mendoza do everything with passion’; she is correct, as this is truly a labour of love for her and not just a legacy.

In addition to managing her own winery, she continues to practice emergency medicine on a part-time basis, she is the General Director of Bodega Catena Zapata, has authored Vino Argentino, and is a wife and mother of three… And if you think her brain is not busy enough, she also speaks four different
languages!

Laura Catena lives between San Francisco and Argentina. She is in Argentina for the harvesting and blending months. When she is not in Argentina she manages wine labs and tastings via skype. She has learned to triage her demanding life and believes that “multitasking is not conducive to excellence,” I couldn’t agree more! You can’t help but admire her as she not only gives but gets the best out of everything she does.

Laura Catena is the face of quality Argentine wine. Much like her life, I think the best is still yet to come in her work to relentlessly push classic varietals beyond the limits of the imagination!

Tasting Notes:
Vintage 2012 Luca Malbec

100% Malbec — 14% Alcohol — Aging: 12 months French oak aged new and second use (30-70) Vineyard elevation: 3,500 ft.

It has blackberry, dried fruit, violets, mocha, integrated oak and some pepper on the nose — it is well structured and does not disappoint the palate with nicely balanced acidity and tannins that become more velvety as the wine opens up. It is full bodied and just sumptuous.

Pairing: This is very much a lean red meat and potatoes type of wine or you can just enjoy on its own!

Vintage 2014 Luca Pinot Noir Lot G

See Also
Interview with Marbue Marke, Winemaker at Italics Winegrowers

100% Pinot Noir – 14% Alcohol — Aging: 12 months French oak aged new and second use (30-70) – Vineyard elevation: 5,000 ft.

I was excited to try this wine as it came with a bit of a hunt and a bit of a wait! It is a beautiful garnet colour with strawberries, figs, spice, leather, and like many of Laura Catenas’ wines, the oak is so nicely integrated. It also has a warming sensation on the nose.

On the palate it is bright and medium bodied. The acidity is a bit mouth-watering with great structure and balance. The flavours are everything you are expecting with some minerality on the finish. This is a very elegant Pinot.

Pairing: Duck, chicken, lamb, risotto or enjoy on its own!

Both Luca bottles are impressively large and deceptively heavy – they almost fool you into thinking there is more wine left. And if you have the pleasure of trying either, you’ll be wishing there was!

Know your winemaker, know your wine