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Modern day conquistadors - Spain invests in Argentina

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In 1991, as a relative youngster exploring the world, I arrived in Mendoza by bus with my backpacks and other paraphernalia collected during eight months exploring South America. I had already been working in the wine industry for a number of years and visited a number of wineries, including Giol, where I walked in a 1m litre concrete tank placed on metal rollers to minimise the impact of earthquakes.

Above: Belasco de Baquedano 

My impression of Mendoza was of a tired town, which had hosted a number of games during the 1978 Football World Cup but had seen little investment since. The memorial garden and fountain were covered in weeds and broken tiles. I skipped town fairly quickly and headed down from the Andes to Santiago in Chile.

Jump forward 19 years to the biennial Alimentaria food and wine fair in Barcelona. My trip had been partially sponsored by the Spanish trade agency, and who was I not to take advantage of that generosity? Next to Italian stands at wine fairs, Spain ranks right up there. No money was spared and I spent 3 days meandering through food and wine stalls, learning and tasting. It was strange then to find an Argentinian winery represented here. This is where my relationship with Belasco de Baquedano began.

Juan Ignacio Belasco who was born in Viana, Spain, to a family of distillers dating back to 1831. The family had carved out a niche market with Patxaran, a legendary regional sloe berry / anise liqueur. In the late 1980s, Juan Ignacio entered the wine business by purchasing vineyards and building a winery in the Navarra region of Spain.

In the early 1990’s, Juan Ignacio became infatuated with the malbec grape variety. With the assistance of renowned wine consultant and former Mouton Rothschild head winemaker Bertrand Bourdil, Juan spent more than a decade exploring Argentina in search of exceptional vineyards to create equally exceptional malbec wines. They eventually discovered and purchased 222 acres of high-altitude (1000m) old vine malbec vineyards in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza. Belasco are located in the ‘Golden Mile’ of this sub-region, named Alto Agrelo.

Above: harvesting malbec grapes from the 110-year-old vineyards 

In 2003, with the assistance of his son Mikel, on a property adjacent to the 100-year-old vineyards, Juan Ignacio began the construction of the Belasco de Baquedano winery, and produced the winery’s first vintage in 2008.

I met both Juan Ignacio and Mikel at Alimentaria. Mikel’s English is impeccable and we discussed their family’s various projects, many of them focused on spirits and liqueurs. I was impressed by the winery’s Mayan-style architecture, the age of the vineyard and the wines I tasted. A few years later, in 2013, I placed my first order. 

I have since toured the vineyard and enjoyed lunch at the winery restaurant, Navarra, while tasting the range. This winery is one of the few in the world that boasts an aroma room – a hall that allows the visitor to smell and read about 46 different fragrances that can be smelled in a wine – a truly memorable experience

Above: the aroma room at Belasco de Baquedano. 

Sadly, Juan Ignacio passed away in 2017, but Mikel continues his father’s passion to create some of the finest malbec wines in the world. We have recently expanded our range of wines from Belasco from four malbecs (Moncagua, Llama, AR Guentota and Swinto) to also include a cabernet franc and a bonarda-malbec blend. Possibly the most interesting wine is the Antracita Malbec, an ice wine that is produced only in years when the grapes actually freeze on the vines. It’s deliciously thick and sweet and complex.

By all accounts, the Belasco family is a welcome Spanish foray into the highlands of Argentina. Why not take your tastebuds on a trip to Mendoza with us?

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