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THE VINEYARD AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Ian Mount

THE VINEYARD AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Maverick Winemakers and the Rebirth of Malbec

By Ian Mount

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-08019-3
Publisher: Norton

Oenophile journalist Mount debuts with a knowledgeable history of the upscale makeover of Argentine wines.

Although wine grapes have been planted in Argentina since the 16th century, the beverage produced for centuries was generally cheap, low-quality plonk that only the natives would drink. By the time bodegueros (wine-makers) like Nicolás Catena began trying to upgrade their product in the 1980s, they were also hampered by outdated equipment and methods and unhygienic conditions. Catena and his peers learned from upstart California vintners, who took on the French and won a paradigm-changing 1976 taste test, that it was possible to create high-quality wines outside France. But at first they worked with Chardonnay and Cabernet grapes, wanting to improve Argentina’s image with the type of wines everyone considered the best. The humble Malbec grape, almost extinct in its native France but doing well for centuries in Argentina’s warmer, sunnier climate, was disdained as coarse and heavy. Yet once Argentina’s bodegueros had modernized their facilities and methods to gain a foothold in the international market for fine wines, it was Malbec that gave put them over the top with “a world-class wine—wine that had a sense of place, of terroir.” In Mount’s savvy recounting, Malbec and the U.S. fine-wine market grew up together; the wine’s fruity quality suited American consumers, who were also attracted by its high value-for-money ratio. But many of the American winemakers who rushed into Argentina in the ’90s, thinking they could duplicate the locals’ success, came to grief over their inability to deal with local business practices, most spectacularly California’s Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Mount skillfully interweaves multiple story lines and personalities, including foreign consultants like Frenchman Michel Rolland and American Paul Hobbs.

Snappily if not elegantly written, this well-informed chronicle captures the distinctive nature of winemaking in a country challenged by an unforgiving climate and political and economic instability.