I had an unexpectedly nice surprise in many ways at a wine tasting of Domaine Bousquet wines from Argentina hosted by the Wine Republic in Excelsior, MN. Guiding us through the tasting were the owners, Labid Al Ameri and his wife Ann Bousquet, a charming couple who like Naji and Jill Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue in Lebanon, are making a difference (see vol. 2, no 7), both had a Cinderella story, and both are doing good things for the people of their respective countries and making really good wines at the same time.
Both of these couples care deeply for the country and the people. They both hire as many local people as possible. In the Boutros’s case it is to keep and have people return to their small town in the hills beside Beirut. They ‘invested’ in peoples land rather than buy it outright and created two internet companies to keep people from leaving. Likewise the Bousquet-Al Ameri’s have hired local people rather than outsiders, such as winemakers, and in addition to being organic are a ‘fair trade’ company which in Argentina means effectively collective bargaining with their employees. There, a pool of funds is created and the employees form a board to determine how it should be allocated, removing that decision from the landowners. Makes sense to TB…if you want to improve the quality of life. Remember both of these families live in small towns and wish to spread the wealth around not have a huge wealth gap with their employees struggling to survive.
The story begins with Ann growing up in the Languedoc in the medieval walled town of Carcassonne. We had visited the Languedoc and Carcassonne in 1997, when the vast majority of the wines were substandard due to Co-ops and pricing the grapes based on weight alone, still, if you can’t change the wine you can change the way the food is prepared to create a pleasant combination (when we travel, wherever we are we drink the local wines and I have made the mistake of buying some and then when I got home they didn’t taste all that good causing me to wonder what I was thinking when I bought them). The Co-op just outside the small town of La Clape (seriously, and it is now a DOCG if you can believe that!), had what looked like a 1930’s gas pump which delivered the wine for one franc a litre! People came in with whatever jugs they had…even saw a Clorox bleach bottle – egad!
Ann came to the U.S. to study at St. Cloud State University and there she met Labid, who was originally from Iraq but grew up in Madrid. Then, in 1990, her father, whose family produced wine in France, went to Argentina with the intention of planting grapes near Mendoza. Just south in the small town of Tupungato he found what he wanted: 110 hectares (about 260 acres) at 4,000 feet elevation with the soils to provide the terroir, he found what he was searching for. There were no other vineyards in the area and everyone thought he was crazy (reminiscent of my friend Carles Pastrana of Clos de l’Obac in Priorat, Spain, also at a high elevation). Despite this he purchased the land in 1997 and planted grapevines in 2002 with the first harvest in 2005. By this time he had recruited Labid and Ann to run the winery…okkaayy…and he focused on the vines. Like the Rhone Rangers of Paso Robles he brought in canes in his suitcases, and planted them. Due to the elevation there was little concern for phylloxera and other pests and they immediately decided to get organic certified, a process that takes three years to insure no chemicals are used and the government checks every year. They also use no sulfites as a preservative which is a common cause of headaches in some people.
The grapes are hand-picked and handled carefully and their ‘big’ wines are stored in 500 litre French Oak foudres in their underground cellar. Their softer wines use a combination of 80% French and 20% American Oak, mostly neutral so as not to impart harsh tannins. Their white wines are fermented in stainless steel and include a chardonnay (which spends three months on lies), white blend, and sauvignon blanc. They also produce two sparkling wines, a lower priced blend of 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir using the Charmat process (in vats), and the premier one made in the traditional or methode Champenois manner (in the bottle).
As for still wines they make a 2016 Rosé of Malbec which is delicious and very much like similar Rhone wines. We also had a 2013 Reserve Malbec which was 85% Malbec and 15% cabernet sauvignon, that to me was better than any Malbec I have previously had primarily due to the blending. A 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was elegant with soft tannins and wonderful fruit and spice flavors.
The remaining two wines were 2013 Gaia (not to be confused with the Piemontese wine maker Angelo Gaja whose daughter is now running the business…her name is Gaia, which is the Greek Goddess of Earth…I was pleased to see they weren’t going to have any trademark problems or be accused of trying to confuse buyers. This wine, the only one in a beautiful artist label bottle while the rest are in plain block letters was my favorite, which made Ann very happy as it is her baby.
We finished with a 2012 Ameri which is Labid’s favorite and I found to be incredibly rich for a Malbec blend. Made in French oak it has black pepper and soft tannins yet should serve well until 2022. It was the most expensive of the flight yet still under $35, which I think is a steal. The rest of the wines are in the $10-20 range which makes them great value. I bought the Gaia and the Reserve Cab at about the same price as the Ameri, which to me was the best deal but I would not hesitate to spring for the Ameri which should make Labid happy.
Lastly, although readers know of TB’s dislike for ratings (to put it mildly), you would be hard-pressed to find one of these values with less than a 90 and several in thee 92-95 range. While that means little to me, it says a lot to see that much consistency. As the saying goes…try it, you’ll like it!