From their pampas to our prairies
In less than 10 years, Zorzal Wines has gone from the vision of three wine impassioned Argentine brothers, to a success story with a Calgarian twist. Stemming from a partnership with a number of Calgary-based investors, Zorzal has not only made its presence known in the world of wine, but has redefined what it means to be a prominent winery in Argentina.
By utilizing the best that Mendoza and the Uco Valley’s Gualtallary region have to offer, Zorzal is reclaiming creativity in the art of wine making. Sitting at 1,350 metres above sea-level, the region’s highest point, Zorzal’s ingenuity in the crafting of new and exciting wines is a direct result of the strong relationship between the Michelini brothers, Gerardo, Matías and Juan Pablo, and Zorzal’s Canadian shareholders — notably, the winery’s president, Bruce Murray, and CFO, Dan Huras.
Prior to their involvement with Zorzal — a prospect first introduced to Huras in late 2007 — both he and Murray had found success within the oil and gas industry. Huras, whose past work with the TransCanada Corporation saw him regularly traveling to South America, says his decision to get involved came from a love of wine, culture and the Argentine people.
“When the opportunity came up to invest in a winery in Argentina, it was exciting and something I didn’t want to pass up,” Huras says. “The people down there are fabulous and the city of Mendoza is absolutely beautiful.”
Murray, a native Calgarian with more than 30-years of oil and gas expertise, says he first felt a connection to the area during a family ski trip to Chile in 2006.
“It was my first time in South America and I fell in love,” Murray says. “I was skiing close to Santiago and there were some people from Mendoza at a wine and food celebration. They’d said I should come back during summer and I’d enjoy Mendoza. So when Dan approached me, I figured, I loved wine, I loved the people, I wanted to be involved.”
Once Zorzal had found its initial investors — of which Huras says there were around six — construction began on the winemaking facility. With the inclusion of state of the art equipment rivaled by few other Argentine wineries, the building was finished in 2009.
During the 2008 construction, winemaker’s Matías and Juan Pablo used another winery to develop a malbec selected to compete in a blind tasting held by Wines of Argentina. It was their first production as Zorzal and they finished first out of 1000 Argentine wineries.
David Walker, vice-president of Vintage Trade, Zorzal’s nation-wide Canadian distributor, says that he can’t recall a winery as young as Zorzal being added to that list.
“There are so many amazing wineries out there now and the fact that this little tiny upstart, this Calgary, Argentine winery, would jump to that level of international acclaim that quickly is spectacular,” Walker says.
Murray says that Zorzal’s character, success and the attention that comes with both, are due in large part to the brother’s creativity. Matías and Juan Pablo, Zorzal’s main winemakers, are two of the most highly respected craftsmen in the industry and have honed their skills everywhere from France to California. And like any true big brother, the oldest of the three, Gerardo, acts as Zorzal’s overseer.
“The brothers’ creativity is the key when it comes to Zorzal,” Murray says. “We’ll be together, wine is always on the table, and they’ll try them all. And then they’ll mix them to play with flavours. They’re constantly pushing the limits.”
Echoing Murray, and speaking to the brothers’ eccentricity, Walker says that the winery’s progress stems from the brother’s excitement about the future, pride in the past and a strong connection to the land and soils of their home.
“I’ve never seen Juan Pablo at a tasting without his guitar,” Walker says. “If there are hippies in Argentina, he’d probably be pleased to be called one. He’s very in touch with where he lives and I think you can tell that from what he’s creating.”
As the winery continues to flourish, shareholders — of which, Huras says there are now around 50, all but three being Canadian — have had the privilege of seeing Zorzal reaching as far as Iceland, Russia and Hong Kong, with the U.S., Brazil and Canada currently the company’s top three international markets.
Down the road, the winery is set to finish construction on an on-location retail store in 2015, and in several years will be able to utilize grapes planted in five hectares of uncultivated soil, meaning the resulting wines will be certified 100 per cent organic.
Zorzal’s success brings with it a new way of thinking about Canada’s place within the global wine industry. No, Calgary is never going to see anything close to the success of the Okanagan Valley or Niagara-on-the-Lake in terms of production — it’s literally impossible given our climate. But with Zorzal’s achievements, and the strength of the Calgary, Argentine partnership, it’s amazing to think of how quickly Zorzal Wines and its Canadian shareholders have brought such a vibrant winery to life.
by Justin Wilson
Photos provided by Dan Huras