When we call Tom Egan, he’s just finished a tasting of about 40 wines. It’s for Jed Merchants – the importing arm of his business, which brings in wine from Argentina, as well as Chile, Spain and the USA.
Jed Merchants is the reason why Egan and his business partners will exhibit around 30 wines at this year’s Gauchito Gil’s Malbec Day. But while this fact is awesome and delicious, it’s not the reason we’re calling – we’re calling to ask Egan about the other arm of the business – Jed Wines.
Egan, together with business partners and fellow Aussies Rob Bates-Smith and Blair Poynten, have been making Malbec in Mendoza, Argentina, since 2006. None of them had even been to Argentina before they made their decision to make wine there, but they’d noticed while working in the USA that there were some incredibly good value wines coming out of that region.
“At that point, Malbec wasn’t even on the map in Australia… we just saw the opportunity,” says Egan. “Once we got [to Mendoza], we found that there was a lot of respect for the Australian wine industry in Argentina. It made things easier for us, we were able to talk our way into setting up partnerships over there.”
There are two main grape-growing regions in Mendoza: Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. Lujan de Cuyo, which is in the north, is warmer and the soils are richer and more fertile. Uco Valley is much more extreme – higher altitude, less fertile soil, and, in general, a much tougher environment for the vines. But despite the trickier terrain, “Straight away we knew that Uco Valley was a logical place for us to do our project,” says Egan. “We wanted to do something that was really different to what we do in Australia.”
Egan, Bates-Smith and Poynten found a vineyard in the Uco Valley; not to buy – they still don’t own their own vineyard over there – but one they could work with for years, one big enough to guarantee a continuous of supply of fruit, and one with enough variation in the soil that they could build complexity in their wines. Twelve years on, they’re still making their wines from fruit grown on this single site.
The dream was to spend three months every year in Mendoza, but sadly the boys often only find time (due to life, kids, Merchants, etc.) to get there for a few weeks around harvest. Still, their limited time hasn’t stopped them from having some pretty uniquely Argentinean experiences.
“The first one that springs to mind is this time we were processing some fruit for a small batch of wine we were making. We were in this field with the Andes looming over us, we had a little fire going with a sort of make-shift barbecue, and on it we were cooking these awesome short ribs,” says Egan.
“Another one – this is the best one – is we was invited for an asado (Argentinean barbecue) at a friend’s parents’ house, and we were invited for an 11pm start,” says Egan. “There was this amazing progression of all these different cuts of meat, from the sort of tougher, bouncier textured ones all the way through to these softer, longer cooked cuts. We were drinking wine and having this meat, and all of a sudden I realized it was 4am. I looked down the table and the whole family was still there at the table. It’s a very different vibe.”
Egan, Bates-Smith and Poynton have no plans to stop making Malbec in Argentina. They will – one day – build themselves a proper base over there, a place where they can take their families and friends. In the meantime, they’ll keep making their wines, keep experimenting, and keep importing so that we can try them, too.