September 2011

Up Front with Edgardo Del Pópolo

By: David Gadd

Edgardo Del Pópolo grew up among the vines. His family was in the grape-growing business in Argentina’s wine-rich Mendoza province, and it was only natural that he should go on to study enology and agronomy at Mendoza’s Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, specializing in viticulture. Over the years, his reputation has grown in steady measure with his knowledge and experience, and he is now considered one of Argentina’s leading viticultural consultants. Simply put, no one knows Argentina’s terroir as well as Del Pópolo.

When, in 1997, Chile’s important Claro Group—already owners of Chilean producers Santa Rita and Carmen and partners with Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in Los Vascos—decided to establish a winery in Argentina, on the other side of the towering Andes, Del Pópolo was selected to become the facility’s Head Viticulturalist and Operations Manager. His new job at nascent Doña Paula would draw on his intimate acquaintance with the vines, soils and microclimates of his native Mendoza.

The value-driven Los Cardos line is named for the thistles that are common on Argentina’s Andean foothills. “Mendoza-ized” Cabernet is Argentina’s “next big thing,” says Edgardo Del Pópolo.

With its modern winery situated in a converted vermouth factory, Doña Paula’s debut vintage was in 1999, but due to Argentina’s disastrous hailstorms of 2000 and 2001, the brand’s entry in to the international market was delayed until 2002. The brand’s growth has been remarkable. Doña Paula is now found in more than 50 markets worldwide, and the winery sends 30 to 40 percent of its production to the States, enjoying a dynamic importer relationship with Napa-based Trinchero Family Estates.

A Range of Terroirs

“There’s been a revolution in Argentina,” says Del Pópolo. Argentines, with their heavily Italian-influenced heritage and lifestyle, have always been hearty wine drinkers. But in recent decades, the emphasis has switched from quantity to quality. Domestic consumption is actually down in Argentina, but with the country’s focus on quality, foreign sales—especially in the United States—have grown enormously.

Although the two neighboring South American countries are wine-producing rivals, “Chile is the largest investor in Argentina,” explains Del Pópolo as THE TASTING PANEL catches up with him in Beverly Hills on a recent Stateside tour that would include stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Napa. “The Claro Group wanted to enlarge its portfolio across all the terroirs of South America.”

Doña Paula now has the luxury of four different estate vineyards in Mendoza, with a range of soils, elevations and climate conditions—from the El Alto “mother vineyard” in northerly Luján de Cuyo, to the high-altitude Los Indios in southerly Altamira. Del Pópolo becomes particularly animated when speaking about the winery’s vineyard in Mendoza’s Uco Valley, an up-and-coming area with huge potential where much of Doña Paula’s best fruit is now being sourced.

The Doña Paula Estate Torrontés shows a wonderfully aromatic Muscat-like nose and exotic fruit. The Selección de Bodega Malbec is made only in exceptional vintages.
Three-Tier System

Covering a range of price points, the Doña Paula portfolio showcases three tiers, all of which offer superb bang-for-buck value. The entry Los Cardos line (named for the thistles that are common on Mendoza’s dry Andean foothills) weighs in an SRP of $9.99. The Los Cardos Malbec shows glowing garnet color and immediate flavors of black licorice, blackberry and figs, with undertones of dried herbs. “This is the signature of Luján fruit,” notes Del Pópolo.

The core line is the Doña Paula Estate tier (SRP $15.99)—concentrated, New World—style varietal offerings that include Chardonnay, Torrontés, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Estate Chardonnay, from the Uco Valley, has a backbone of crisp citrus acidity, with notes of white fruit, sweet oak and nice minerality on the finish. Sourced from Cafayete, in Salta province, the Estate Torrontés—Argentina’s only native variety, a naturally-occurring cross between Criolla Chica (Mission) and Muscat of Alexandria—delivers a wonderfully aromatic Muscat-like nose and exotic fruit flavors that make it a fine match for Asian cuisine or as a pre-dinner aperitif. Del Pópolo is a huge advocate of Cabernet Sauvignon, “the next big thing in Argentina,” he says—and style the Doña Paula Estate Cabernet in what he called a “Malbec-ized” fashion, with ripe Mendoza-style blackberry and black fruit.

At the top of the Doña Paula lineup is the impressive Selección de Bodega Malbec (SRP $40). From low-yielding old-vine vineyards and made only in exceptional years, it’s treated to 16 to 18 months in new French oak. The refined nose shows complex aromas of mocha and spice, with rich but stylish fruit and nuanced oak tones.

With a current production of 100,000 cases in the top two tiers and 250,000 in the Los Cardos range (made at a separate facilty), Doña Paula now ranks as one of Argentina’s major players—a top exporter not just of Argentine varietals, but of Argentina’s image as a producer of world-class wines. And Edgardo Del Pópolo, who grew up in these vineyards, is riding high.

Doña Paula is imported by Trinchero Family Estates.

Edgardo del Pópolo with Beverage Director Dana Farner at sidebar by Wolfgang Puck.

I was overjoyed to see Edi del Pópolo again so soon after meeting him this May in Argentina. He showed us the importance of terroir in Mendoza, tasting us on the rocky Uco Valley Malbecs filled with violets and blackberries, then the spiced red fruits and herbs found in the Lujan de Cuyo wines from clay-based soils. Doña Paula’s Selección de Bodega Malbec blends both regions to beautiful, balanced effect.

— Dana Farner, Beverage Director at CUT and sidebar by Wolfgang Puck, Beverly Hills

Doña Paula’s estate vineyards lie at the foot of the towering Andes Mountains.

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