Decanter has chosen Nicolás Catena Man of the Year 2009, crediting him with changing the direction of Argentina’s wine industry.

In the April issue of Decanter, the pioneering winemaker and force behind Argentina’s Catena Wines tells Anthony Rose how he was considered ‘mad’ when in the early 1990s he decided to plant in the Uco Valley, at 1,440 meters. Since then, he has become a leader for experimenting with clones and microclimates, the better to exploit this ‘New World El Dorado’ in the Andean foothills.

‘He has been instrumental in changing the Argentinian wine scene more than anybody else, pushing it towards high quality and intelligent marketing,’ said Baron Eric de Rothschild.

While a PhD student of economics and mathematics at Columbia University, Catena drank Blue Nun, Soave Bolla and Undurraga, but was exposed to Chateaux Latour, Lafite and Margaux by the Argentine consul in New York, who periodically invited him to lunch. He spent his late 20s and 30s moving between academe and the family wine business, but it was the latter that ultimately called to him.

‘Nicolas Catena has such a zest for life and love of wine – but also great wisdom,’ said Francis Ford Coppola.

‘It’s a pleasure to offer my admiration and congratulations to him.’

Catena’s confidence and entrepreneurial spirit were borne of an immigrant work ethic instilled in the family by his grandfather Nicola, who emigrated from Italy and settled in Mendoza at the end of the 19th century.

‘Then, there was virtually no knowledge or understanding of viticulture,’ said

Catena, ‘but my grandfather chose Malbec because even at that time it was considered the best, most reliable variety.’

A visit to Robert Mondavi in the early 1980s and an introduction to Jacques Lurton (to whom he sent a wedding gift of 1,000 pounds of Argentine beef) eventually convinced him that his own fortunes – as well as those of Argentina – lay in planting on higher, cooler ground.

‘In Argentina, the physical composition of soils is not relevant because humidity is controlled through irrigation,’ says Catena.

‘The relevant terroir factors affecting aroma and flavour are temperature, which

depends on the latitude, and sunlight intensity, which depends on altitude.’

The past three Decanter Men of Year award were Christian Moueix in 2008, Anthony Barton in 2007 and Marcel Guigal in 2006.

Decanter Men (and Women) of the Year 1984-2006

2008 Christian Moueix – Pomerol

2007 Anthony Barton – Bordeaux

2006Marcel Guigal – Rhône

2005Ernst Loosen – Mosel

2004Brian Croser – Adelaide Hills

2003Jean-Michel Cazes – Bordeaux

2002Miguel Torres – Penedès

2001Jean-Claude Rouzaud – Champagne

2000Paul Draper – California

1999Jancis Robinson MW – London

1998Angelo Gaja – Piedmont

1997Len Evans, OBE AO-Australia

1996Georg Riedel – Austria

1995Hugh Johnson – London

1994May-Eliane de Lencquesaing – Bordeaux

1993Michael Broadbent – London

1992André Tchelistcheff – California

1991José Ignacio Domecq – Jerez

1990Prof Emile Peynaud – Bordeaux

1989Robert Mondavi – California

1988Max Schubert – Australia

1987Alexis Lichine – Bordeaux

1986Marchese Piero Antinori – Florence

1985Laura and Corinne Mentzelopoulos – Bordeaux

1984Serge Hochar – Lebanon

Read the full feature in Decanter magazine, April 2009 issue, on sale Wednesday 4 March, or subscribe now

Written by Maggie Rosen