Exclusive Interview with Paul Hobbs

Back in the 90s, he was responsible for producing and exporting some of the first premium Malbecs to US. Currently, he is the owner of one of the best and most acclaimed Argentine wineries, Viña Cobos.

With Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs and Todd Bone

As you may know (or suffer!), Instagram is full of LIVES and it is difficult to know which one worth to watch, and most important, it is even more difficult to get some conclusions from them, some highlights. Luckily, this time we had the opportunity of getting a private zoom chat with one of the most important actors in Argentine viticulture’s recent history, which enabled us to get for you a transcription of the best parts of the interview that Todd Bone, founder of VinoApp, held with Paul Hobbs, the world renowned U.S winemaker.

Back in the 90s, he was responsible for producing and exporting some of the first premium Malbecs to US. Currently, he is the owner of one of the best and most acclaimed Argentine wineries, Viña Cobos.

Paul Hobbs and Andres Vignoni

Paul Hobbs and Andres Vignoni

Todd: You were a winemaker before you came to Argentina. How did you get to this country? What opportunity did you see? 

Paul: Initially, I was just not even planning to go to Argentina! I’d heard so many bad things from colleagues, the press, that Argentina was a wasteland that make pong wines. I was interested in Chile. So I organized a trip in March 1988 to explore that country. But I made a mistake, a good one… … I invited a friend to join me. When my host from UC University realized that I’d invited an Argentinian to the tour he thrown us out! So we drove to Mendoza the next morning, cause I was kicked out. As we drove in Ruta 7, I saw the first vineyards in Mendoza and I was really impressed. And that began my curiosity and the whole story.

T: How did you end up working in Argentina at first?

P: I’d been working for 7 years with Robert Mondavi in Opus One, and I decided it was time for a change. It was the opportunity to do my own wines. In my career, lots of things got together by luck and chance!  It was a great challenge for me. I felt Argentina was totally misunderstood by at least the Americans that I’d consulted or by anything that I’d read, and somehow, they’ve got all wrong. So it was a kind of a fun project to prove those dudes to be wrong.

T: How do you end up on Cobos Road?

P: March 1988, I was travelling along the Ruta 7, the highest vineyard was Marchiori Vineyard. But I didn’t know that. In 1997 I wanted to start my own business, I began to search for partners. I ask my wife at that time if she would help me find young and hungry partners to do a small winery project. And she connected me with Andrea Marchiori y Luis Barraud. And it happens that Andrea Marchiori’s father owned the vineyard that we work till today on Calle Cobos. This vineyard has a great view of the Andes mountain and is surrounded by alamos. The funny thing is that the alamos tree was brought to Argentina by a Spanish viticulturist named Francisco Cobos! So, after all this, that’s why we decided to call our project Viña Cobos

T: How has the brand Viña Cobos done comparatively speaking to other brands you’ve created?

P: Far better than I ever imagined. The way we originally conceived Cobos was to just produce a top wine. Initially, Andrea, Luis, and I all we wanted to do was a study the Upper River Mendoza zone just to check differences between for instance Las Compuertas, Vistalba, Perdriel or Agrelo. And the same in Uco Valley. But we had problems with the weather. 1998, the year we started was a really tough vintage. And then we also had political problems, coupled with more weather issues! So we couldn’t even make Cobos because we couldn’t get the quality. The growers that had agreements with us decided to sell the grapes to others without telling us. So all these problems gave rise to other wines, not just a high end one, like Bramare, Cocodrilo and Felino. We were forced to do that, it was not part of the original plan. But in the end, it was good luck.

T: You were trying to make a premium Malbec when Malbec in the world has never been a premium grape?

P: Well, in a way, the reason I started working in Mendoza was because of the challenge that nobody can convert Argentina into a fine wine growing region. Having visited Argentina I was convinced that their people love wine and there were a variety of reasons why they weren’t making good wine at that particular time. And for me, it looked possible to change that. And I started reading about Malbec because I had no previous experience with it in California. And I found out that this grape has a tremendous nobility.

Cobos, one of the most acclaimed Argentine wineries.

Cobos, one of the most acclaimed Argentine wineries.

T: How did elevation, compared to France, do with getting the most out of Malbec?

P: Cahors, the origin of Malbec is more hilly than mountainous if you compare it to The Andes. Elevation in Mendoza, and in other parts of the country as well, is part of the whole story: is crucial mainly because of the day and night shift. It’s part of the excitement, the opportunity to work with different elevations. Climate, temperatures, soil changes with altitude. They were people afraid of going higher because they thought is going to be too cold. But there are advantages like health and less risk of hail storms.

T: So you have incredible achievements with malbec…

P: Getting malbec out to the world was really exciting. People didn’t know what it was. Also, they were asking what part of Chile is Argentina from… Argentina didn’t exist in the minds of any person in the US back in 94, and Malbec even less.

T: Back to Viña Cobos: has the style changed since 1999?

P: Yes. We were learning a lot of Malbec in the ’90s, even in the 2000s. We were tasting the limits in terms of irrigation, fertilization and other inputs. So some vintages we made them really ripe. Other vintages made them less ripe. Today I think we are in the right balance, after try and error. And that balance I think is shown in the 2017 Viña Cobos Malbec, that got 100 points by James Suckling. I think is one of the best wines I’ve ever produced in my life.  It’s got everything you would want in a wine. And I got to give a  lot of credit to my team. They are awesome! The farming that we do today is much better than we did before, and it’s very natural. We move to more sustainable agriculture: no herbicides. We improve the conditions of the soil. And I think our winemaking is definitely more balanced: we’ve learned what is not ripe enough and what is overripe. And how that works on different sides. And then the oak treatment: how long to keep it in barrel, how much new oak, what type of new oak, toasting, and other factors.

T: How did you find Andrés Vignoni (oenologist) and how did you know he was someone to invest in?

P: We had a pretty good winemaking team but we needed a refresh. My head guy, Ariel Nuñez Parolli, we were talking that we needed to take this up to another level. We needed someone who had the vision and who understood what we were trying to do here. Somehow Andrés was found by Ariel. When I met Andrés for the first time, I knew he was the right guy.

T: What can we expect from Viña Cobos in the next couple of years?

P: We are doing a lot of things that other top producers are doing. We are looking at other varieties. We are in the maturity of our process of experimentation, innovation and exploration in search of terroir and improving farming. How can we farm better? There’s a lot of focus on that today.

T: Do you think that Argentine Cabernet can ever compete with Napa?

P: In terms of quality I have no question. Is yes. When we put Argentinian Cabs in a blind tasting, we are on the top. The thing is finding believers. Having the marketing and all the other stuff that goes with it. And we need the critical mass as well. This said, growing a very high quality Cabernet Sauvignon is a far more demanding process than growing high end Malbec. But Argentina can do it. It’s attention and detail.

T: Do you think international critics scores, James Suckling, Tim Atkin, for example, had help selling more argentine wines in the US?

P: I have a lot of respect for Tim. He’s a stood taster. I would love to see his voice get heard, but currently and unfortunately his reach doesn’t include the US. James’s influence is growing. And that’s exciting because he’s really committed to Argentina. I think media like Wine Spectator could pay more attention to Argentina. They have the most influence on the American public.

Cobos Volturno, a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend

Cobos Volturno, a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend

T: Is there a growth in the US for premium argentine wines?

P: We were in a very good trajectory before Argentina became to popularized. It was easier to sell high end Argentine wines in the early days than it is today. The real reason is, in my view, at some moment the quality went down in the exported wines. Something similar to what Australia did. The other problem was that people went crazy with what they thought Parker wanted, and there were a lot of wineries in Argentina overoaking the wines, and pushing to overripe, and do concentration by bleeding instead of farming properly. The combination of those factors I think hurt Argentina. I do think is possible to come back with quality now though it’s not an easy proposition.

T: VinoApp is focused on Argentinian wines. What do you think we can do to help argentine winemakers to succeed in the US?

P: Well, I think the job is getting wine back to the people. The old school is hard to change, so the challenge is to show the world the new Argentinian wine style. People don’t know this. People are not aware of these positive changes. And then direct them towards good wines, not just the big names. You guys can help a lot in that area.




This was written by VinoApps´s team as a whole.

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