Monday, September 8, 2014

Argentina's Haarth winery is Canadian-owned

 Photo: Haarth winery's Terry Martens

In 2009, Maple Ridge businessman Terry Martens, 55, was persuaded to invest in a winery in Argentina.

As it turned out, his prospective partner could not come up with his half of the money. Terry found himself one of that handful of Canadians with an Argentina winery.

The winery is Haarth Organic Wines, an old family winery near San Rafael with a century-long history. Haarth once owned perhaps 2,000 hectares of vineyards and more than two dozen bodegas. It had fallen on hard times after the death of the scion of the family.

However, Terry and his erstwhile partner were able to pick up the Haarth’s family’s original winery, a lovely bodega with a small country in and 20 hectares of vines.  It is run entirely by the Martens family but Terry would still like to have a partner.

The Haarth vineyard includes some old Bonarda vines, a red variety sometimes overshadowed by Malbec. Terry believes it is a variety on the rise. “Bonarda is becoming well known and talked about,” he believes. “People say that is the next Malbec [in popularity]. I think they are right.”

Terry came to wine through business. Raised on an Alberta farm, he went on to get degrees in mechanical engineering. That led to a long career working with Caterpillar as a designer and trouble shooter on mining equipment. He continues to consult internationally to operators of mining equipment, even during the months he spends at the winery.

“A lot of mining companies will call me and I will do consulting,” he says. “Everything I do, I can do from the winery. I just need a good internet line.”

During his career, he spent so much time on South America that he and his family are comfortable speaking Spanish. It was in Chile where he acquired a taste for wine.

“There were some wonderful wines around and they were so cheap,” he remembers. “When I went down to South America, I never drank wine. But I got tired of beer, and you can only drink so much scotch. Wine was a great alternative.”

When he became interested in investing in Argentina’s wine industry, Terry and his former partner looked at about a dozen opportunities. They kept coming back to Haarth because of the mature vines in its vineyard. Some of those vines are believed to be almost 90 years old, capable of delivering rich and deeply flavoured wines.

Terry has completed the transition to organic viticulture that had just been started by the former owners at Haarth. The winery, which is producing about 12,500 cases a year, has a portfolio of both organic and non-organic wines.

There is a good demand for organic wines, Terry believes, if they are well-made. “One of the biggest hurdles we have had to overcome is that organic wines of the past haven’t been very good,” he says, somewhat controversially.

He has had numerous comments from consumers claiming they can drink Haarth wines without the headaches that other wines sometimes give them.

The Haarth wines are being distributed in both the United States and in select Canadian markets. In Western Canada, Terry’s son, Peter, operates an agency called Natural Wines & Spirits that distributes the wines through private wine stores.

Here is a diversion about the varietal called Bonarda in Argentina. According to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al, the proper name is Douce Noire. It was widely grown in eastern France and may have originated in Piedmont in Italy, although the Italian Bonarda is a different grape.

Douce Noire – can you picture that on the label of a bottle of wine? – exists under various names, including Charbono in California.

In Argentina, according to this book, Bonarda “generally produces good-value fruity quaffing wines, although if allowed to ripen fully, there is more quality potential than is generally realized in the bottle …”

Here are notes on some of the current organic releases.

Haarth Malbec Rosé 2013 ($15). This is a full-bodied and full-texture rosé with a dark hue and with a fruit bowl of flavour – cherry, plum and strawberry. 89.

Haarth Bonarda 2011 ($19). This is a concentrated red with flavours of plum, black currant and prune. There is liquorice, a touch of tobacco and graphite on the finish. The latter is probably a reflection of the minerality the old vines are pulling up from deep in the soil. 89-90.

Haarth Malbec 2011 ($19). This is the classic Argentina Malbec, with aromas of cherry and strawberry and bold flavours of blueberry and black cherry and long ripe tannins. 89.

Haarth Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($19). This is a firm but elegant wine with aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and blackberry, nicely framed with spice and vanilla from the barrels. 90.

Haarth Tempranillo 2011 ($14). This wine is not organic wine but it is tasty nonetheless. It has aromas and flavours of red and black currants with spice and vanilla on the finish. 88.

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