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Malbec + Cabernet Sauvigon = Elegance: A Chat WIth Fernando Buscema of Bodegas CARO

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Fernando BuscemaBodegas CARO is one of the most fascinating and prestigious projects in Argentina's wine industry: a joint venture between the Catena family from Mendoza and the Rothschilds from Bordeaux. These two leading names have come together to make stellar malbecs and blends of malbec and cabernet sauvignon at a 19th century property in Godoy Cruz. We at Argovino recently had a chance to speak to Fernando Buscema, CARO's technical director, about the winery's past, present, and future.

AV: Fernando, how did you come to represent -- through the winery -- two of the most important families in the wine world?

FB: In 2005 I joined Catena. José Galante was the winemaker then, and he knew me well; he had been my professor while I studied for my degree in winemaking at the Don Bosco school. In 2007, Alejandro Vigil took charge of Catena's wines, and I took his place as director of research and development for Catena. Between 2010 and 2012 I trained in the United States, receiving a master's in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis. When I got back, the board of Bodegas CARO asked me to join the team as technical director. Obviously, the confidence that the Catena family -- Nicolás and Laura in particular -- had in me was crucial in the Rothschild family inviting me into this prestigious project.

AV: How do they involve themselves in the winery's operations?

FB: Fortunately, they have a great deal of trust in me and my team, and they give us a lot of freedom to run the operations. Both families have a very high standard of quality in everything they do. Luckily, I experienced something similar in my family, and that helped me a lot to understand what they were looking for. In terms of the composition of the final blends and aesthetic changes to our ancient winery, both families bring a lot of good suggestions. The board is composed of Laura Catena and Christopher Salin (the CEO of Domaines Barons de Rothschild), who work to push forward vigorously the vision of Bodegas CARO.

AV: How do you find a balance between the chance to do something new and the obligation to respect the traditions and styles of the two families? Do you ever have the urge to produce wines in your own style, perhaps at a smaller property?

FB: Fortunately, we don't yet know how to make South America's most elegant wine. This allows us to keep studying the terroir of Mendoza and learn from it. At the same time, I still serve as executive director of the Catena Institute of Wine (previously the research and development department). There we create more than 1,000 different wines every year.

AV: How does the winery work with Old World customs, and how does it work with New World innovations? Can you distinguish the two influences?

FB: There's a clear influence of the Old World: the blend as a path to arrive at maximum quality. Beyond that, we're a group of young people with enormous respect for Old World customs, but who are also constantly asking "why?" We want to understand our terroir which, unlike Bordeaux's, hasn't already been studied for centuries.

AV: There aren't many French blends composed solely of malbec and cabernet sauvignon, but in Argentina there are plenty. In your experience, why do these grapes combine so well? Have you thought about incorporating other grapes into your blends in the future?

FB: Malbec, in general, brings a very agreeable profile of blue and black fruits that complements the spicier character of cabernet sauvignon. In the mouth, malbec contributes a lot to the sensation of roundedness, with softness and density, while cabernet sauvignon contributes to the wine's length. Malbec in Mendoza achieves an expression that's unique in the world, encouraging a blend with the king of all varieties, cabernet sauvignon. As far as other varieties go, as we understand the terroir better, I'm sure we'll be able to figure out whether other grapes might help to achieve the greatest possible elegance.

AV: You're using grapes from different regions of Mendoza for your top-of-the-line blend, Caro. In Bordeaux, at least, it would be more customary to focus your efforts on a narrower terroir. What's your point of view on the trend toward denominations of origin and "single vineyard" wines in Mendoza?

FB: At CARO we use grapes from two great regions: the Uco Valley and the central "premium zone" of Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu. I think Mendoza is going through one of the richest stages of a maturing winemaking area. In my opinion, rigorous research, together with the experience of Argentine winemakers, leads inexorably toward wines of unique terroir. We're going through this step-change today: in the past we needed to drive our cars from one terroir to another; today we can probably walk from one to the next.

AV: The volume of Argentine wine imported to the United States grew enormously in the past three or four years. What's the best way to explain Bodegas CARO's offerings to American consumers? How do they stand out in the market?

FB: At Bodegas CARO we're committed to producing the most elegant wines of Argentina... of South America... of the Americas. That's the road we're on. The blends define us, in every way -- in the mix of varieties, as in the mix of cultures. Our DNA is made up of the genes of two great families from the wine world, one Argentine and one French.

AV: And what's your vision for the future of the brand?

FB: I see a future that's very good, very ambitious, focused on precision and excellence - but always in the role of an observer: the terroir is there; we're just learning day by day to observe it and understand it better. We want to be honest with the terroir and our consumers. A New World brand whose evolution I admire is Opus One. Perhaps it's a good benchmark for what we're trying to develop at CARO.

AV: Thanks for sharing all of your reflections with us, Fernando, and best of luck as CARO continues to grow. Salud!