Wine book reviews
The vineyard at the end of the world
Ian Mount 

In the vineyard at the end of the world, Ian Mount tells the story of the modern Argentine wine industry. He begins at the beginning, tracing the history of winegrowing in Argentina, but after some worthy but slightly dull chapters, things begin to get very interesting.

Mount lives in Argentina, and his research has been meticulous. Itís the portrayal of the characters he has met and spent some time with that really brings this book to life, and a particular focus is on the Catena family. Indeed, the role Catena has played in developing Argentinaís modern wine industry is the central thread throughout the book.

I was interested to learn that in 1979 Catena sold their family business to Hťctor Greco. Greco was at time the biggest player in the Argentine wine industry and also the owner of a bank. Greco outflanked other players in the wine business by paying progressively more for grapes, at a time when consumption was actually decreasing: this made the growers happy but drove many of his competitors out of business.

In 1979 Greco offered the Catena family $129 million for their bodega, a price they couldnít refuse. But this purchase price was divided up into 10 payments, and the transfer of majority ownership to Greco was only to be triggered by the last instalment. Apparently, Greco had made seven payments before he was arrested by the military dictatorship and taken to prison. Catena did very well out of the deal: they got their winery back, plus they held onto a significant sum of Grecoís money.

Through the book, Mount traces the growth of what was an isolated and rather backward wine industry into what it is today, interviewing key players, and bringing a strong narrative theme to the whole account. He writes for the general reader, trying his best to explain all the wine terminology and jargon with some success. I learned a good deal, and the historical context provided by Mountís book has helped me to a better understanding of Argentine wines, even though I have visited and tasted lots of them.

The emphasis on Catena could have unbalanced the book, but although Mount clearly had a lot of access to Catena he avoids sycophancy. Itís a warts and all account. For example, he doesnít shy away from mentioning how Paul Hobbs, the Californian consultant behind the wines that propelled Catena onto the international stage, has been airbrushed out of the official Catena history.

If you have any interest in Argentine wine, this book comes highly recommended.

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