I am told that anyone in Argentina over the age of 30 remembers the following commercial from the seventies. Opening shot: a dining room in Buenos Aires. A man enters and looks at the table. He sees two baby booties. Next to them is a bottle of Crespi wine. He smiles as he realizes what it means: a baby is due.
"We wanted to get across the idea that you drink wine with your family," recalls Nicolás Catena, whose family used to make wine under the Crespi label. Nicolás is the maverick winemaker (and an economics professor) behind Bodegas Esmeralda, considered by many to be Argentina's best winery, with such labels as Catena Alta, Catena and Alamos Ridge. "That commercial had such a strong message of family values that the Catholic Church awarded us the prize of Santa Clara de Assisi!"
While it may be unusual for a winery to receive such recognition from the church, Nicolás Catena has always been a bit of a trailblazer in Argentina. With its Spanish, French and Italian heritage, Argentina is one of the world's top wine consumers. It was once known for drinkable but otherwise unexceptional table wine, but that all began to change in 1982 when Nicolás walked into Robert Mondavi's Napa Valley winery and experienced one of those moments that can change the course of a life. In this case it also changed the course of Argentine winemaking. "The moment I saw what Mondavi was doing, I thought, 'My God! We can do this,'" Nicolás says. "I felt we could compete in quality with any wine in the world. But no one in Argentina had tried--yet."