What is the definition of being successful? Is it making more money than you know what to do with? Is it having letters after your name that people aren’t even sure what they mean? Or is it simply being happy? When Mike and I decided to enter the wine business, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road. We were realistic. We understood that we would neither be an overnight sensation, nor ever be as recognized as Robert Mondavi. That’s not why we entered the business. We entered the wine industry because we love wine and it was our dream to own a winery. We chose to not just wish or dream about it, we made a conscious decision to make it happen. We chose to Pursue Our Passion.
It’s a scary thing chasing down your dreams, but if you don’t enter the race you are never going to win. One of my favorite sayings about Pursuing Your Passion was made by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He very eloquently stated, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He knows you need to take risks. You need to leave the safety net that tethers you to your comfort zone so that you can experience what happens next.
In this, what has become a monthly tradition, a guest blogger will tell you their story of how they pursued their passion in the wine industry. These people understood what Van Gogh meant by “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
In the world of Malbec, Argentina is where it’s at and if you are looking for the capital, it is Mendoza! Mendoza is the largest wine region in Argentina and is located at the edge of the Andes Mountains. This province is responsible for approximately 70 percent of the country’s annual wine production and Achaval-Ferrer is a leading producer based in the Uco Valley. Producing wines from the celebrated high-altitude the estate is known for its high-quality wines.
I have had the privilege to participate in two #winestudio sessions involving Achaval-Ferrer and was impressed by both their wines and Gustavo Rearte, their winemaker, on each occasion. In my first post, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina it was obvious that there was passion behind the wines, but with our second chat series that culminated in a blind tasting that forced me to Rely On My Palate, Gustavo’s passion was transparent and was easily perceived through the words he typed. When I went to the website to learn more about him, what I found was very little:
After Gustavo graduated from Juan Agustin Maza University in Mendoza he decided to enrich his knowledge by traveling to New Zealand and California in order to learn and gain experience that would later lead him to being an invaluable part of the Achaval-Ferrer world.
I wanted to know more and I wanted to share the story of his passion. I reached out to Achaval-Ferrer through Twitter and was so ecstatic when they responded that Gustavo would be happy to answer some interview questions. So grab yourself a bottle of Achaval-Ferrer and sit down to learn a little more about their amazing winemaker.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a winemaker? How did that realization come to fruition?
In 2004, after two years of medicine and a deep conversation with a friend involved in the wine business, I decide change my focus to have more connection with earth and this natural product call wine. I already had a solid base of chemistry and physical science, so I quickly grasped the science of grapes becoming wines.
I spent several hours visiting friends with different vineyards and in 2010 I started working in the cellar of Don Cristobal 1492 in Mendoza. I trained with two small wineries, studying the process and essential techniques in the two years prior to this.
What was the process that you went through to become a winemaker? Did you start in the vineyard? Cellar rat? Etc?
I spent six years studying at Juan Agustin Maza University and two stays outside of Argentina (Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley and Delegats Estate on Marlborough New Zealand) to understand different points of view in winemaking. I explored the process and learned the idiosyncrasies of northern and southern hemisphere winemaking.
I remember not taking a day off during New Zealand harvest, probably against the law but I persuaded our Head Winemaker to not send me home because I was there to learn about wines. I spent 36 days, straight, with my high boots receiving fruit on the conveyers and working inside of a big cellar moving and pressing wines.
When was your first vintage and what did you produce?
My first official vintage was 2010 at Don Cristobal with two great winemakers, Juan Bruzzone and Diego Medina. I split my times between cellar and lab learning about everything.
I remember producing a special white variety call Verdelho, Sangiovese and of course a Malbec from Uco Valley.
Tell us about your first vintage as a winemaker. Were you nervous? Excited? Terrified? All of the above? Has those emotions changed over the years?
Nervous, excited, terrified, happy, anxious—a little of every emotion. These emotions never cease, it’s the passion for making wines, our joy year after year waiting for the fruit to arrive in the cellar.
Wine making is often described as both an art and science. Do you agree with this? What percent would you say is art? What percent is science? Does that percentage change depending on what is happening in the vineyard each year?
I agree with you! From pruning our vineyards we start to mold our future wine for the cellar. We try to follow our principles of respect of Mother Nature and letting all the characteristics of our different terroir shine through. Year by year we create new and better wines based on the grapes, terroir and experience.
How long have you been in the industry in any aspect? What changes have you seen over this time period? Can you elaborate on some good and some bad changes. (if any)
I´m relatively new one but I’ve noticed a recent transition from volume wines to high quality wines. I have noticed excellent advances in the care of the vineyards (main change) and as each oenologist has begun to focus on different areas within Mendoza.
Certainly, the depth of methods of elaboration, use of barrels and care of the wine is making the difference between the Argentine wines.
Looking back at the vineyards, there’s progress with different varieties to obtain greater varietal expressions.
What is your philosophy on oak? Do you have a standard protocol?
Protocol? We only have protocol to clean. We believe in our instincts and follow our feelings when we have to make decisions.
What would you say is your favorite aspect of the wine industry?
Harvest time, for sure.
It is our time to celebrate, to be with our wines and create our dream in our winery. Of course, I also learned from great people in this industry like Santiago Achaval and Roberto Cipresso. The last two years I had the pleasure to work with Silvio Alberto.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
In a few years I see myself making wine and enjoying sharing my passion for doing this. Learning and growing as an enologist.
One of our tag lines is “Pursue Your Passion.” You obviously have passion for wine. If you were to give advice to someone entering the wine industry to pursue their passion, what would you tell them?
Continue to grow and learn about making wines, follow their heart and never give up their desires. I would humbly tell them to continue studying and learning. That working from the smallest detail means having great results and always pursuing the desire to make the best wine possible.