Nicola Catena, an Italian, came to Argentina and planted vines in Mendoza in 1902. The most recent generation is Nicolás Catena Zapata and his daughter, Laura. Their focus on high-altitude sites and detailed winemaking knowledge have undoubtedly helped change the status of Argentine Malbecs globally. In addition, Laura helped put a scientific approach to terroir front-and-center when she joined the winery in 1995 and founded the Catena Institute of Wine.
The Institute studies terroir to understand the minute workings of a vineyard—and high-altitude vineyards in particular. They obtained what they call the Catena Cuttings, 135 selections of the Malbec variety for research purposes. In addition, they established weather stations, studied sites parcel by parcel, and began planting in regions outside of Mendoza. The most studied vineyard is Catena Zapata’s Adrianna cru, seven hectares of calcareous soil and gravel sitting at an altitude of 5,000 feet. The Institute works with the Viticultural and Enology team at Catena Zapata. It has partnerships with UC Davis and Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. Their goal is study terroir in-depth to influence winemaking decisions for a sustainable and thriving future for Argentine wines.
Their most recent research is published in Scientific Reports and helps us scientifically define terroir. Studying Malbec from different parcels for three vintages from 2016 to 2018 led to some definitive and enlightening results. Certain phenolic compounds in Malbec grapes from various and specific parcels showed up consistently over those three vintages. Suppose you’re not familiar with the work of Laura and Catena Zapata. If that case, know that they’re moving the viticultural needle forward with research and data needed to understand the earth and its viticultural products thoroughly. Not to mention, wines from here are exquisite examples of what Argentine wine is and can be with the proper tools.