How many miles would you travel to live the dream of running a winery? Anne (née Bousquet) and Labid Al Ameri met twenty years ago while studying in Minnesota. She came from France and ended up working as an economist in the paper packaging industry. He arrived from Iraq, by way of Spain, and became a financial trader. But her father's love of wine - which they came to share - eventually brought them both to the vineyards in a farflung, mountainous corner of Argentina.
Jean Bousquet ran a vineyard in Carcassonne, in the Languedoc region famous for its Corbieres wines. In 1998, he moved to Argentina to plant grapes in the high-altitude pastures of Gualtallary, a village of Tupungato in Mendoza's Uco Valley. "He was impacted by the climate, the altitude, and the soil," Anne says. According to her, he was the first to go so high up the walls of the valley - up to 4,000 feet above sea level.
At that time, a hectare in Luján de Cuyo, a wine region well established for over a century, cost around $30,000. But unfancied Gualtallary - now the terroir shared by grapes for Alejandro Vigil and the Michelini brothers, among other star winemakers - was just $1,000.
The land was unspoiled then, and the family wanted to keep it that way. For them, it was an easy choice to have Domaine Bousquet make organic wine.
"It's not something we tried to do to sell more," Anne says. "It's something we believe in. The climate was allowing for it due to its dryness. We understood that the climate would allow us to do organic. There was no pollution. We are the first ones, why should we pollute?"
The care they take with the grapes continues into the winemaking process. They use gravity to move the wine and barrels with a maximum capacity of 500 liters. The same barrels pass through five or six vintages in order to promote gentle integration of wine and wood.
"We try to preserve the purity of the fruit," says Labid, "and not to expose the wine too much to barrels, too much extraction, or maneuvers that winemakers do to change the wine - so people can taste fully the fruit."
As more people began to plant grapes in Gualtallary, Domaine Bousquet's demand for grapes increased as well. So they helped to convert several nearby growers to organic farming.
Anne and Labid moved to Tupungato in 2009, and her father retired in 2011. They spent five years cultivating export markets in Europe alongside the vines, returning to the United States last year. Now based in Miami - one of the epicenters for imports of Argentine wine, thanks to the large expatriate community - they're trying to make inroads in the American market.
And they certainly have a promising product - in fact, some of the most attractive organic wines to come out of Mendoza. The wines from the reserve level up are made exclusively with grapes from the Domaine Bousquet estate, starting with the Reserve Malbec. It spends 10 months in French oak with 15% merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah in the mix. The nose is very forward, full of cloves and prunes, and the wine brings a pleasant sweetness to the palate without much bitterness in the finish.
A more unusual selection is the Gaia blend, made from 50% malbec, 45% syrah, and 5% cabernet sauvignon. In the past, malbec-syrah blends were more common in San Juan, where some of the most intensely flavored syrahs originate, and they could be quite hot and bold. But this one offers more floral notes and a smooth texture.
Crowning the line is the Malbec Grande Reserve, cloaked in a gorgeous regal purple and carrying subtle aromas that belie a much brighter flavor: citrus, tree fruit, sweet spices, pink peppercorn, and a hint of baba au rhum. Its grapes macerate three weeks in wheeled 400- to 500-liter barrels to integrate with the oak, then ferment for a month, then undergo a second maceration, then age.
"What we are trying to achieve is to move the grapes the least amount possible," Labid says. "The grapes are always in contact with the oak, and there's always micro-oxygenation. There's less extraction, more concentration."
These kinds of effects can be achieved with machines, too, but the final product might not be quite as delicate. Domaine Bousquet makes organic New World wines with a degree of care born of an Old World sensibility - a rare combination indeed. Salud!