After Achaval-Ferrer, we drove 80 km further south to a small house on a dirt road outside of the tiny town of La Consulta. Good thing we had a map. Our destination was the home of Facundo Suárez Lastra. My friend Jorge Rosales (the reporter/editor for La Nación) had given me Facundo’s contact info (after first checking with Facundo) when he’d heard that we were heading to Mendoza. Jorge had probably told me other details about Facundo too, but somehow they’d gotten lost in translation and all I could remember was that this guy was someone who lived in Mendoza and knew something about wine. A friend of a friend, I thought.
On our first night in Mendoza, Facundo met us around 10 pm at the restaurant where we were having dinner, we talked about wine a bit, and then made plans for a lunch at his house on Tuesday. Not an out-of-the-ordinary experience in Argentina. People are incredibly gracious here and will make you feel like you’ve known them for years.
When we finally arrived at his place (WAY out in the countryside), I felt like I was walking into a photo shoot for a Food & Wine article. Table set out on the lawn, grilling meats on the parilla, bottles of (his own) wine open and breathing. Over the course of lunch we learned that he had only been making wine for 8 or so years, that the land all around had been in his family for generations, that the malbec grapes all around were also the ones that Achaval-Ferrer (and many other places) used to make their prize winning wines. He sells 95% of his grapes to places like that and with his remaining 5% makes about 10,000 bottles/year under the name of Finca Suárez. All malbec, mostly in oak barrels.
After Facundo’s father died 10 years ago or so, the family land was divided among the children. Facundo’s own share was not even planted with vines then, it was just undeveloped land. The other siblings’ shares either had vines already or were fruit orchards (pears, apples). He said he’d been too busy “with work in Buenos Aires” to care which piece of land would be his. About 8 years ago he planted vines and began to make wine as a hobby; he was delighted with the term “gentleman farmer” when we suggested it. Over coffee he told us how all the older vines had been planted by his grandfather in the early 20th century, after he’d studied oenology in Europe. Somehow we got the sense that his grandfather had been important in the Argentine wine industry.
After lunch he drove us around in his pickup truck and showed us all his vineyards, then we went to the place where his wines are bottled and did a quick tasting in the “laboratorio” where blends are mixed. Very, very cool. And very good. With hugs and cheek kisses he then rushed back to Mendoza, as did we. Implicit in the afternoon was the discussion about whether Kevin’s company might want to import Facundo’s wines, which aren’t currently exported, and Kevin was sent off with several bottles to share/taste with his partners back in the US and promises for quick follow-up.
Altogether it was a delightful afternoon and one that we will remember always.
Ok, so what did I learn since then? When I got back I googled Facundo to see if I could figure out his grandfather’s connection to the Argentine wine industry, and perhaps why Jorge Rosales had once interviewed Facundo. Imagine my surprised amusement to learn that Facundo is a lawyer-politician with the Radical Civic Union party and was the mayor of Buenos Aires in the late 1980s. Prior to that he was the Secretary of the Interior (of the country) and the Secretary of Justice and Security in the capital city. Lots of newspaper articles where he’s quoted (including the NY Times and Washington Post) but hard to follow the story lines.
Politics certainly run in the Suarez family. Facundo’s father, also named Facundo, was Secretary of the Intelligence and Ambassador to Mexico, among other things. His uncle was Minister of Defense in the 1960s. And the grandfather who started it all? Minister of Public Works for the province of Mendoza, but also someone who spent years studying oenology in Europe, wrote numerous books and articles on the subject of Argentine wines, and was VP of the Society of Vitivinicultures of Mendoza. This last bit of family history comes from an article that was giving a very favorable review of one of Facundo’s wines. One that my brother Kevin may begin to import to the States.
Life is full of unexpected events!