Alejandro Vigil is director of production, vineyards and wineries at Catena Zapata, and was named president of Wines of Argentina in April. Besides leading the Catena family’s wine projects, he also runs Chachingo craft brewery and a slew of pubs and restaurants in Mendoza.
How did you get here?
My journey started at INTA [the National Institute of Agricultural Technology in Argentina] in 1996, when it opened a specialised soils department in Luján de Cuyo, and I really got to know about Argentinian viticulture. I met experts, technicians and winery owners around the country, which led to my crossing over to the private sector 22 years ago. I’ve been Catena Zapata’s head of oenology for 18 years. But it’s really about the people: I’ve worked with 80% of the vineyards in Uco Valley, and that’s a real swathe of knowledge.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’m always encouraged by walking around a vineyard year round, sensing it and living with it, then expressing it year after year. Wine doesn’t come to life when you ferment grapes, it’s born each year when we prune. The best part is interpreting nature through wine. There’s a famous saying, ‘bottling the landscape’, and I love doing just that, capturing Argentina – La Pampa, Mendoza, Salta, everywhere I work.
And the worst?
What can’t be controlled in viticulture is nature. Hail and frost hurt me the most; when nature shows its strength there’s little we can do about it. I can mitigate most things but I can’t do anything about a -6˚C frost, or hail before harvest.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
That my work begins and ends in the vineyard. In fact, the bodega is in the middle. And communication is key too. At Casa Vigil [Vigil’s winery and restaurant brand in Mendoza] I have many visitors, and it’s important to share the vineyard’s energy and make them feel part of it.
What are the challenges of leading Wines of Argentina?
We need to convince new drinkers as well as older ones to try Argentinian wine, because neither group really chooses wine from our country. Sales are growing slowly at 3% a year, which is small on a global level. It’s difficult when economies are slowing down and Argentina is dealing with inflation, so we need to work harder than ever.
How do you strike a work/life balance?
A personal life doesn’t exist outside viticulture, and my free time is invariably linked to the vineyard. Pruning, for instance. I do enjoy cooking with my family when I get time. On Saturday we made homemade pasta and on Sunday I walked around vineyards with my children. Quality time is essential.
You have Malbec and Cabernet Franc tattoos? Which other grapes are special to you?
Pinot Noir is so transparent that in a dry, sunny country, it can prove difficult – and I love that challenge. Also, Semillon, Chardonnay and Criolla. There’s plenty to be done with Mediterranean varieties too, such as Garnacha, Monastrell and Carignan, and in new regions such as Villa General Belgrano in Córdoba, or Tandil in Buenos Aires. If we want to grow in volume, we need to move down from the Andes. Catena is cultivating 120ha at Casa de Piedra in La Pampa; it’s a good starting point for low-elevation wines.
What do you drink at home?
I love red Burgundy and Spanish Garnacha, and peaty malt whiskies from Islay. Also beer, and gin; I make G&Ts with water, not tonic.