Marcos Fernández, Head Winemaker at Doña Paula: “We Oenologists are the Doctors of Wine”
“People love to talk to the ones who make their wines”, says Marcos Fernández, Head Winemaker at Doña Paula, who visited Dublin recently. He speaks the truth, as a big part of a winemaker’s yearly planner is filled with press trips, festivals and other events that aim to let the world taste his wines.
And as Marcos points out, it’s not a one-sided exchange. “I feed from these trips, and they’re an opportunity to observe the evolution of taste in different countries”, in this occasion, Ireland, Denmark and the UK, all important markets for Doña Paula, a Mendoza winery and one remarkable success story about Chilean investors expanding into their Andean neighbour. In this case, the company behind them is Santa Rita, and their name is a nod to their Chilean heritage.
“Doña Jaraquemada was the woman that helped 120 Chilean patriots during the struggle for Independence”, and as Marcos points out, if the number rings a wine bell it’s because it names the globally known Santa Rita 120. Proud of this legacy, Doña Paula is one of the wineries mentioned on Decanter’s South American Wines special, published just last month (October 2016) where it is noted by author Patricio Tapia how well-established Chilean names have been arriving into Argentina over the last twenty years and how both wine-making countries have been able to benefit and learn from each other.
What differences have you observed between Irish, Danish and British consumers?
“There are important differences. I’m just getting to know the Danish market but we’re very happy with it and there’s a lot of room for growth in areas such as wine by the glass, craft wine and entry level bottles”, says Marcos. Regarding the UK, he acknowledges that consumers are very value savvy and demand high quality at the same time, “supermarkets sales are very strong in Britain”, while in Ireland, specialist retailers and restaurants have good news as Marco considers that Irish consumers are “willing to spend a bit more on good wine” and as he points out, there’s a comparatively smaller offer.
A Mendoza Man
Marcos was born in Mendoza and he begun his career very young in the region. He graduated as an oenologist locally, although he remembers that his original plan was to become a doctor. “I don’t come from a family that owned vineyards or bodegas, and there are not other oenologists in my family. I was doing an internship during my senior year in highschool in 1998 and I fell in love with wine and with the oenologist’s work.”
He continued on that path and became part of several prestigious Argentinian and Californian wineries before joining the team at Doña Paula. Marcos recalls his “mom crying because she wouldn’t have a doctor in the family”, but mentions that wine was well appreciated at home. His dad worked for years selling corks and both parents often enjoyed good bottles of wine.
“Philosophically, I believe that an oenologist is like a doctor: wine is alive, it grows, it goes through adolescence and you need to tame it, eventually it ages and dies, it can get sick and you have to cure it”
Come for the Malbec Stay for Many Varieties More
Argentina arrived late to the export party. As Marcos explains, until the seventies, most of the Argentinian wine was drunk domestically, “in fact Argentinians were at some point the second biggest wine drinkers just after the French” but due to an important decrease in consumption -largely due to a weakened economy in recent decades- developing markets abroad became more and more important for local wineries.
“We are new in the market, and we became known thanks to Malbec, but now that we have earned consumers’ trust, we’re ready to show them that it’s not the only thing we do well”, says Marcos, and as Argentinian hugely diverse map suggests, their many different altitude-latitude combinations offer numerous terroirs well suited for very different styles and varieties.
Grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Torrontés, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have found their space in the varied Argentinian geography and “something that’s working really well at the moment at vinos de corte or blends.” Marcos blends wines from four different vineyards in Mendoza, each of them with specific soils identified thanks to careful research.
Blending Wines Involves “Science, Art, Hard Work and Passion”
“I believe that for many years, French blends dominated the scene but in those wines, grape varieties are not mentioned. New World blends tend to say the types of fruit used and even the percentage of each”, a characteristic that surely makes life easier for amateur wine lovers.
For Marcos, “to blend wine is not just about mixing grapes, it’s mixing science, art, hard work and passion. Consumers value the balance you can only get with a blend, specially when it comes to acidity, tannins, alcohol and complexity.”
If you were a wine, which one would you be?
“I’d be a Cabernet Franc”, Marco says, and unlike a Cabernet Sauvignon, which you can have in many places, “it takes some effort for this vine to find its place in the world but once it gets there, it expresses itself with great intensity.”
When asked if Mendoza wines have already found their place in the world, Marcos points out how the region has gained a huge amount of knowledge in recent years and how sub-regions and particular soils are all developing their own identity. Marcos adds that within Mendoza, areas such as Ugarteche, Cordón de Plata, Los Indios and Gualtayarí all produce different wines. Doña Paula has vineyards planted in all four and this is one of the keys to their successful blending.
It’s not something that happens overnight. Finding your place in the world is not always easy, and Mendoza winemakers such as Marcos are showing everyone that their region is not a one trick pony. Yes, Malbec is still the star, but a talented cast of varieties makes things way more interesting, and Marcos is doing a brilliant job at directing this story.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.