Malbec World Day

An Argentine celebration inspired by France

Wednesday May 03 2017 by Sharon nagel

Easter Monday was not only about hunting for Easter eggs this year, it was also about celebrating Malbec across the globe. Andrew Maidment, European head of Wines of Argentina, explains the significance of Malbec World Day and outlines the future for Argentinean Malbec.

How did Malbec World Day get started and what is the rationale behind it?

We wanted to celebrate Argentina’s flagship grape and felt there was a very good story to tell. It was such a new grape on the market at the time and really only America was embracing it. We felt Malbec was worth pushing. When we tried to find a good date, we thought about Beaujolais nouveau. When we looked at the country’s history, we discovered that in 1853, April 17th was the date that all the French grapes including Malbec were signed off for planting in Mendoza, Argentina. A French agronomist, Michel Aimé Poujet, went to Argentina and was tasked with starting a nursery with plants, cuttings and seeds brought over from France.  This date can therefore be considered as the birth date of the Argentinean wine industry, and that of Malbec in Argentina.

Who co-ordinates and funds the event?

Wines of Argentina, the Argentine wine industry and the government join together to promote the grape variety at this time. The government of Argentina via the foreign office grants a certain amount of money to each embassy around the world to host events and activities associated with the wine. Some embassies organise their own events and some may work with us for POS material and shop promotions for instance. In the UK, we sent POS material out to 700 specialist wine merchants. We work with stores such as Majestic, Waitrose and Ocado in order to push Malbec at this specific time of year. In China, in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we held simultaneous events to select the top Malbecs on sale in these markets. We selected who we consider to be the top fifty wine professionals in each of those cities to judge a group of wines with the aim of getting a list of the best Malbecs available in China, selected by the Chinese. We have a variety of events like these in different markets.

How much does it cost?

The investment by everyone is over a million euros.

How successful has it been so far?

Malbec ten years ago was not a top choice grape variety in most markets. Malbec has gone from nothing to one of the top-ranking varietals in the UK, after Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon and alongside Pinot noir. Obviously Malbec World Day is not entirely responsible for this, but it all plays a part in creating a new variety that people are willing to purchase. Most consumers in the UK had never heard of Malbec eight years ago and now it is one of the top choices, especially in wine bars and restaurants. Basically, Malbec is a much more relevant grape now than it was before Malbec Day started.

What major events were planned for 2017 Malbec World Day?

It all depends on the stage individual markets are at. In the UK, we very much focus on reaching the end consumer. This entails a lot of retail promotions with POS material sent out to specialists and supermarkets. We have enough brand awareness for Malbec to be able to do that. In Scandinavia, it’s still very much about education. A lot of the Scandinavian countries, some of them because they have monopolies, are less open to advertising and marketing. We have to do a lot more education about what is happening in Argentina at the moment. This is occurring in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark where we are taking over Argentina’s top sommelier, Paz Levinson, to excite the trade about what’s happening in Argentina. A lot of these markets still have a slightly old fashioned view of the country – they think it’s a source of big, over-oaked, heavy, over-extracted wine. Our job is to try and change that perception – a lot of Argentinean wines now are not like that at all. In China, knowledge of Argentina is growing but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of positioning Argentina as a quality producer country. People often lump us with Chile which has grown massively in China, but it’s all at the cheap end. Argentina doesn’t want to, and cannot, compete at the low end so we have to position ourselves slightly higher.  The Chinese not only love a competition, they also love anything that puts them at the heart of decision-making. The selection by Chinese professionals does this and gives us something to use after Malbec World Day for promotional purposes.

What are your plans for the event in the future?

Wine is about fun and enjoyment. The absolute ideal for me is the Beaujolais nouveau event. We may sometimes laugh but it is still a big thing. It is still massive in countries like Japan. This doesn’t cost the Beaujolais marketing board anything, they probably don’t even know the full scale of events, but there are lots. Beaujolais is the Holy Grail – to have wine integrated into a celebration of wine, food and partying. If in 15 years’ time, people are just drinking a glass of Malbec, and having a great time because it is Malbec World Day, then that is what we want to achieve.

The connections between France and Argentina are quite strong viticulturally – how do you explain that Cahors is not part of the international event?

From my perspective, there hasn’t been much conversation between the two. I would love Cahors to be part of the event, but seven years ago when it was conceived, Argentina was the only country pushing Malbec. Obviously Cahors makes some wonderful Malbecs, and increasingly so, but at the time, there wasn’t any marketing initiative around it. Chile is also coming on board with some wonderful Malbecs. I would like to think that because of the work done by the Argentine wine industry, Malbec has now become a worthwhile category. If we can all work together in the future, the more the better in terms of creating a real category for this grape variety.

How do you view France as a market for Argentinean Malbec and its wines in general?

I think there are some places in France which definitely hold potential for Malbec: Nice, Monaco, the Riviera in general, Bordeaux and Paris for instance. There is a lot of investment into Argentina coming from Bordeaux. There is also an explosion of Argentine restaurants in Paris, there are some in Nice and Monaco too. Here, there is certainly potential but as soon as you move inland to specific wine regions, I cannot see any. The French approach foreign wines with a different mindset. We are intending to take a container wine bar to Bordeaux this year at the same time as Vinexpo. We will be running a lot of Argentine street parties during the show, because I want to test how receptive the French are to Argentine wines. The food pairing potential is there – a lot of people eat steak and chips for instance. The food in the two countries is very simple and very similar and the range of Argentine wines available in French stores is definitely improving.

Can you see Argentinean Malbec plateauing any time soon?

We’re often wondering what’s next for Argentina after Malbec and actually I think the next stage is site-specific, terroir-driven Malbec. Argentinean producers are only now starting to understand the differences between wine regions. They are analysing the vineyards geologically to find out what works best in each area. This has happened in the last three or four years. I think Malbec will follow a similar route to Burgundy and over the next ten years we will see emerging from Mendoza, Malbecs that are highly different depending on the site. Argentina will still definitely be Malbec but the core of Argentina’s wine industry will be different, site-specific Malbec.

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