Laura Catena interview Part Three 11-22-2023

Dr. Laura Catena is the managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata and often called the face of Argentinian wine. A fourth-generation vintner, she also is a magna cum laude grad from Harvard and earned a medical degree from Stanford. She practiced medicine in San Francisco for 25 years while helping run the family winery.

Laura is the spokesperson for the Catena brand. The winery also produces wine under the Alamos label distributed by E&J Gallo in the U.S., and is the Catena wine you are most likely to find. Laura also has her own brand, Luca.

• Was it your idea or a collaborative idea to develop high altitude vineyards?

My father was the first person in Argentina to understand that higher altitudes held the key to making terroir driven, age-worthy, grand cru level wines. This is related to higher natural acidity at higher altitudes, more limestone in the soils and more intense sunlight which results in more polyphenols. He planted in the high part of Gualtallary (Monasterio) at almost 5,000 feet elevation a decade before it became known as perhaps the best vineyard location in Argentina. Once others realized the quality advantage of the Uco Valley, there was a move by many producers and today 80% of the wines coming from Mendoza are grown in the Uco Valley (it was the reverse, with more grapes being grown in Lujan de Cuyo and the East of Mendoza 20 years ago).

• What are the advantages and disadvantages of high altitude grape growing?

Mostly advantages: cool climate (higher natural acidity), intense sunlight (leads to thicker skins = more tannins), well drained stony, limestone soils (low yields, no rot). There is a risk of frost which can be remedied by planting on a slope, but the risk is always there.

Dr. Laura Catena

• Do you consider yourself first a grape farmer, or a winemaker, or a marketing spokesperson, or the leader of a large and successful business?

I consider myself a farmer who pays the bills and spreads joy by making and selling delicious wine.

• If you could have one super power, what would it be?

To understand and speak animal and plant language.

• What is the greatest challenge facing Catena and the wine world in general?

Water shortage related to climate change.

• What is the greatest joy you have in life?

Watching other people thrive, which includes my children.

Tasting notes:

• Bodegas CARO ‘Caro’ Mendoza 2017: Full body, plenty of substance, concentration. Mostly malbec. Very tasty in the dark fruit arena. A Catena-Rothschild joint effort. $59-65 Link to my review

Last round: How does a flower whistle? Through its tulips. Wine time.