The Vineyard at the End of the World

There’s a joke in South America that the Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, the Peruvians descended from the Incas and the Argentines descended from the boats. More recent, according to Ian Mount, it’s the winemakers descending from airplanes who have made the difference in Argentina’s wine industry. Prior to that, his story begins with the 31-year-old Michel Aimé Pouget, a 19th-century French agronomist who amused himself with unusual agricultural pursuits, such as grafting wisteria onto acacia trees on one of Mendoza’s main streets—or planting obscure French varieties such as malbec in South America. Mount traces malbec’s trajectory from obscure variety to engine of the world’s fifth-largest wine industry mostly through the lens of Catena, the country’s most ambitious winery. Mount’s interviews with past consultants at Catena and elsewhere—people such as Paul Hobbs, Steve Rasmussen, Jacques Lurton and Michel Rolland—highlight just how far Argentina’s wine industry had to come to begin competing on an international level, and underline the importance of foreign knowledge to a country that had been essentially cut off from the rest of the world for decades. What’s missing from this focus are the successful locals who haven’t gone the international route—families such as the Weinerts and Nortons or enologist Roberto de la Moto—but it’s a compelling story nonetheless, capturing a country whose story is still being written.

The Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount (W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 2012; $26.95)

Reviewed in W&S February 2012.