Many people consider Laura's father, Nicolás Catena, to be single-handedly responsible for initiating the revolution in Argentine wine. The grandson of an Italian winemaker immigrant, Catena, who holds a doctorate in economics, took over the family wine business in 1963 and built it into one of the world's preeminent producers.
With a population that is overwhelmingly European by heritage, Argentina has always been a large consumer of wine. By the mid-20th century, thirsty Argentines were quaffing nearly 90 liters per person per year, mostly as a wash down for the country's breakfast-lunch-and-dinner staple, beef. But something was lacking: quality. Quality was the key ingredient that Catena injected into the fermenting juice that would become the future of Argentine wine.
In 1982, Catena accepted a teaching position at the University of California in Berkeley. Spending his weekends in Napa Valley, he was highly impressed with the burgeoning California wine revolution. One day, when visiting the Robert Mondavi Winery and savoring the results of Mondavi's ceaseless research and development, Catena had a moment of near-biblical inspiration. "We can do this in Argentina," he remembers thinking.
On returning home, Catena immediately organized research projects to find Mendoza's best vineyards, studying microclimates, soils, rainfall, and irrigation control. He instituted clonal studies to find the best vines, opting for low-yield selections rather than heavy producers. "I then hired California winemaking star Paul Hobbs," he explains, "to help bring a more contemporary style to our wines." When the first releases hit U.S. shelves in 1991, Catena got an overwhelmingly positive vote from the press and the public. Other Argentine wineries took note and began casting their eyes on an international rather than a strictly local market. It was the start of something big.