Sebastian Zuccardi, the 38-year old winemaker for Bodega Familia Zuccardi of Mendoza, Arg., was a bit distracted when we met last summer at the Food and Wine Magazine classic in Aspen. Seems his nation’s football team was facing Iran and, well, even one of the best young winemakers in the world has his priorities.
As the evening passed, and Argentina won thanks to a goal by the stellar Lionel Messi, Zuccardi freely talked about his family’s wines, reflected on his winemaking philosophy and discussed the state of wine consumption in Argentina.
“Today, wine consumption in Argentina is 28, 29 liters per person (per year),” he said. “In the ’70s, it was 90.”
That was a different generation, he said, one still full of immigrants who considered wine a part of everyday life.
“We still are like an Old World in the New World,” Sebastian said, referring to the legacy left by immigrants from Spain, Italy and elsewhere that built the country’s wine industry.
One of the grapes they brought with them was Malbec, and today the nation’s wine industry is awash in Malbec.
Years past, when wine consumption was high, the quality was poor, Zuccardi said. In the 90s, when Argentina finally opened its doors to the rest of the world, winemaking took a turn, becoming modernized and seeking to attract international palates.
Today, 70 percent of the wine made in Argentina today is sold in the country, he said.
His family wants to change that, and today they sell 45 percent of their annual 20-million bottle production out of the country.
“My father (company director José Alberto Zuccardi) always tells me it should be 50/50,” said Sebastian, who at the 2013 Gaucho awards celebrating Argentina’s wine industry was named the “Winemaker’s Winemaker of the Year”.
The family’s largest international markets are, in order, Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Brasil.
Like many other companies, the Zuccardi brand wants to grow, but in price, not volume.
“We want to keep the company this size,” Sebastian said. “The big companies are so huge and our plan is not to play in this market.”
He said the plan is distinguish his wines from the countless other Malbecs produced in the country is by pushing regionality and terroir-driven differences, focusing on the various microclimates to offer different expressions of Malbec.
He also has lifted the company image by discontinuing the low-priced wines they previously sold to supermarkets.
“Now, we don’t sell anything without our brand.”
That drive has paid off. In 2007, Decanter named Sebastian and his father José Alberto as among the five most-influential people in Argentina winemaking.
Awards are numerous, including the 2014 Gold medal from the Decanter world wine awards for the 2011 Zuccardi Z, a blend of 83 percent Malbec, 17 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from estate vineyards in the Uco Valley.