French made, Argentinian Aged, Domaine Bousquet Set Up where Mendoza Ended and the Andes Began
by Andrew Chalk
Jean Bousquet farmed grapes and made wine at the family vineyard in Pennautier, near Carcassonne, in southwest France. A 1990 vacation to Argentina was to change his life forever. It took him to Mendoza, the principal Argentine wine making region where hundreds of wineries produced, mainly, bulk wine for the domestic market and a little fine wine, some of which was exported. The province of Mendoza is roughly the same size as the U.S. State Georgia and larger than the average U.S. state so it is not hard to imagine that it incorporated many unique terroirs and meso climates.
In Bousquet’s case it was the Gualtallary Valley, set in the far west of Mendoza almost flush against the almighty Andes mountain range, that fascinated him. Here, the 4,000+ foot altitude, the widespread sandy soil, the constant winds from the Andes, the 59o diurnal swing, and the low humidity spelled ideal grape growing conditions. Sure there was only eight inches of rain a year (making it technically a desert) but Bousquet, unlike those, often better funded, earlier failed efforts, figured that access to a well was the key to growing grapes. It actually helped that the area was so barren and remote, as the price of land was one twenty fifth of the price of prime Mendoza grape land. Two other hurdles were that there was no electricity and no access road.
On returning to France, Bousquet began liquidating his wine assets in France. In 1997 he purchased 988 acres in the Gualtallary Valley. In 1998 he drilled a well (it took drilling 495 feet to find water) and got electricity extended to run it. He planted grapes in 2001 which yielded the first vintage in 2005. Due to tough times his land became a bank which he sold off in tranches, falling as low as 173 acres at one point. He used the funds to buy equipment and make better wine. Today, Domaine Bousquet is back up to 667 acres due to new purchases.
The problem of no road access was not going to be solved by the central government (Argentina was essentially a failed state from 2001) so the winery owners extended and paved the track themselves.
The story of Domaine Bousquet took a huge turn in 2002. Jean’s daughter Anne and her husband Labid Al Ameri visited and began a process of involvement that eventually resulted in them buying the property and Jean retiring, albeit retaining a plot of grapes to keep himself busy.
Anne and Labid develop local talent into management positions when they can. The head of purchasing started on the bottling line. The chef at the restaurant on the property learned locally but they sent him to stage at restaurants in New York City in order to learn how to prepare French food. Winemaker Rodrigo Serrano worked at Bodega Terraza de los Andes, Chandon, MacRostie Winery, and elsewhere, before settling at Bousquet.
The results are a winery, restaurant, and visitor centre in a Gualtallary Valley that is now populated by dozens of wineries that are the direct result of Bousquet’s demonstration that it could be done.
The wines that Rodrigo Serrano produces exude an attitude towards the terroir of The Gualtallary Valley. Throughout a recent tasting I found a restrained use of oak, often trusting neutral oak for the oxidative ageing effects rather than young oak for its phenolics.
All of the wines tasted are appellated Tupungato, Valle de Uco, Mendoza,
We started with the the NV Rosé Brut ($13) made from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay using the charmat/martinotti method. Simply put, this is a Prosecco competitor. It is also clearly a latch onto the rosé craze currently sweeping the U.S. and much of Europe (the U.S. is Domaine Bousquet’s largest market). It is a light, crisp, and good to quaff on hot summer days or pair with east or south Asian food. And it is an ideal alternative to Prosecco.
2017 Gaia Red Blend ($20) is 50% Malbec, 45% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a medium-weight red exhibiting a fair amount of complexity that likely originates from the blending of Bordeaux with Rhone grapes (a popular choice with Rodrigo Serrano). He could have aged this for an extended period in new French oak (in some parts of the world this would have been close to a condition of employment). Instead, it is cold macerated and aged in neutral French oak, and for only 10 months.
2015 Ameri, Red Blend ‘Single Vineyard’ ($36). The label and the technical notes differ on the cépage. The label pegs Malbec at 65% and Syrah at 10%, the technical notes put Malbec at 60% and Syrah at 15%. The other varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon at 20% and Merlot at 5%. This is a kind of big brother of the Gaia Red Blend. It is a full-bodied red wine with 16 months of ageing in French oak. It has a combination of red and black fruit flavors, considerable complexity, moderate tannins and would be best with lamb or steak. Despite being the most expensive line in the U.S. lineup it still represents good value.
2017 Gran - Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in French oak for 12 months. A full-bodied wine with medium tannins. Nose of raspberry and blackberry. Flavors confirm these and some wood from the oak ageing. Medium-long finish. A good value. Best with red meat.