Posted on | November 14, 2012
Written by | W.R. Tish
One of Argentina’s oldest wineries gears up for expansion.
With Malbecs-Come-Lately sprouting up on American shelves like mushrooms after rain, here is a brain teaser: What is the best-selling Malbec in its modern homeland of Argentina? The answer is Rutini. The brand—imported to the U.S. along with its second label, Trumpeter, by Pasternak—may still qualify as a well-kept secret. But that is on the verge of changing now that Rutini has completed a major overhaul of its winery and is preparing to release revamped versions of its upper-tier Malbecs.
Deep Roots, Big Plans
Rutini’s relative low profile in the U.S. is due, in part, to the brand’s strength in its own backyard; they produce 1.3 million cases of wine annually, but 1 million cases never leave Argentina. Italian immigrant Felipe Rutini planted his first vines in 1885, at what remains the site of the present-day winery in Maipú. The family’s name is also embraced for the La Rural Rutini Wine Museum, arguably the most important wine museum in the Americas, welcoming 60,000 visitors per year.
Rutini today is poised to take full advantage of a decade-long renovation that doubled production capacity at the winery. Highlights of the makeover included stainless steel tank capacity of 3 million liters; 600,000 liters worth of French and American oak barrels; and state-of-the-art technology including optical scanners for sorting just-harvested grapes and conical fermenters that maximize extraction and phenolic concentration.
Raw Materials + Savoir Faire
In addition to being among the most physically impressive wineries in South America, Rutini is bolstered by prime vineyards and savvy winemaking. Rutini currently owns estates in five different areas of Mendoza—Maipú, Rivadavia, La Consulta, Altamira and Tupungato—with a total of 255 hectares under vine. The diverse sites allow for strategic cultivation of varied grapes. (Besides Malbec, the winery produces Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay under the Rutini label; Trumpeter includes Chardonnay, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec and Malbec-Syrah.) Of particular note: Rutini has significant parcels in La Consulta, believed by many to be Mendoza’s best source of Malbec, with some vines upwards of 60 years old.
The Rutini family has long been committed to top-flight winemaking. Founder Don Felipe sent his six children to study in Italy; that generation brought back the European concept of terroir, which has guided their philosophy for decades. A recent turning point came in 1995 when Nicolás Catena became a partner with Rodolfo Reina Rutini, the grandson of Don Felipe.
Reinvention at the Top
Winemaking today is under the watch of Mariano Di Paola, whose 30+ years of experience include stints alongside Nicolás Catena and several vintages in California. One of the key figures in the modern Argentine wine industry, from 1984 to 2007 Mariano was a professor of enology at the prestigious Don Bosco University. His current challenge: the reintroduction of Rutini’s ultra-premium wines—Apartado and Encuentro—with the 2009s debuting this month.
Fittingly, the high-end Rutini reds are both Malbec-driven, and to for this relaunch, Di Paola collaborated with his friend, well-known consultant Paul Hobbs. Apartado (SRP $149) is “set apart,” a 100% Malbec hand-harvested from the winery’s best parcels in Altamira, La Consulta and Tupungato and given 18 months in new French oak. Encuentro Barrel Blend ($50) is a “perfect meeting” of Bordeaux varieties (30% Malbec) from seven Mendoza vineyards. Like its sibling, the wine sees 18 months in oak, providing structure beneath the wine’s intense fruit and layered complexity.
Pasternak Wine Imports is naturally eager to translate Rutini’s success in Argentina to the U.S. Gary Clayton, director of sales and marketing, sees Rutini as a brand that is “connected to the past, but positioned for the future,” with authentic wines that fit well in our market. The fresh, un-oaked Trumpeter is an ideal “weekday wine,” at $9.99. The Rutini varietals, about $10 more, are a jump up in quality while still delivering value. And with the reboot of Apartado and Encuentro, Pasternak sees Rutini establishing itself here as a leader in the thriving Malbec category.