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If you look into the history of Bodegas Caro, you might think this is a relatively new venture. It was founded less than 20 years ago when a renowned Argentine wine dynasty (the Catena family who founded Catena Zapata in 1902) partnered up with a renowned Bordeaux wine dynasty (the Rothschild family who have owned Château Lafite Rothschild since 1868) to make a world-class wine together.
Indeed, the oldest Caro wine is a 21st century wine - from the first harvest in 2000. However upon stepping into Bodegas Caro, you’ll notice that there has been wine in these walls for far longer…
Bodegas Caro is set in the historic winery of Bodega Escorihuela, founded in 1885. The old winery has been lovingly restored into a beautiful cocoon of history, culture and wine - the completion of which, in March 2017, prompted it to win the Great Wine Capitals Best Of Wine Tourism award for Architecture.
Historically, Bodega Escorihuela was one of the giant urban wineries of Mendoza - churning out eye-watering volumes of wine which would get packed into the train outside and transported to the thirsty market in Buenos Aires. In Argentina’s financial bust of the 70s, the winery ran dry and was abandoned. Local business entrepreneur and vigneron Nicolas Catena purchased it in 1993 and restarted the Escorihuela brand, which still operates in a section of the historical winery today.
In 1999, on a chance meeting between Nicolas and Baron Eric de Rothschild, the idea of Bodegas Caro was born and in 2003 they moved wine production into an unused corner of the Escorihuela property, which until last year remained mostly off limits to the public.
Last March, following several years of restoration, the winery reopened to the public and today hosts daily wine tastings (evenings included) with weekly tango shows.
I visited last Friday evening with tourism manager Emilie Giraud to see what the Bodegas Caro refurb was all about.
The old Escorihuela winery occupies an entire block in Godoy Cruz, a large urban neighbourhood on the outskirts of Mendoza city centre. Most of it is covered in white paint and graffiti, but - quite notably - the Bodegas Caro portion of the building, on the northeastern corner, has been stripped back to the original brickwork.
“It took over a year and a half to get the paint off!” explains French-expat Emilie as she welcomes me in. “It was nice actually because the local people got to see what was behind the horrible paint, and the gradual restoration of this beautiful building.”
As we step inside, the door opens to a cavernous hall with exposed brickwork on the walls and ceiling, a handsome wooden bar, red velvet chairs, ginormous light bulb chandeliers and shiny pine floorboards reflecting the soft light. On one hand it feels like you’ve stepped into a Parisian ballroom in Belle Epoque (Emilie’s French accent helps); and on the other hand it feels like this could be the setting for a milonga in Buenos Aires in its heyday (in this case helped by the tango music playing). Take a look at the wine list, offering both Bodegas Caro and wines from the Rothschild’s estate in France, and this Franco-Argentine connection is indisputable.
“The speciality here is mixing the tradition of the two families,” smiles Emilie. “That’s why the wines of Caro are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, for both the Argentine and French traditions.”
Although Chateau Lafite is best known for its Cabernet-dominant wines, when it was awarded First Growth status in 1885, it would have in fact been a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with some proportion of Malbec. Today Malbec is uncommon in Bordeaux, but it reigns supreme in Mendoza - and here they create two of their own Bordeaux style-blends with Argentine grapes. They’ve also added a 100% Malbec to their portfolio to embrace their Argentine homeland.
Beyond the wines, the tradition of both families is also blended with the tradition and heritage of Argentina’s wine history in Bodegas Caro. The beautiful restoration preserves many of the original features of the winery - including a striking rosetón (rose window) at the top of the outer facade depicting a man sat upon barrels; and the old cement tanks from the 19th century (which would carry up to 300,000 litres of wine each!)
Bodegas Caro is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina today and one of the few urban wineries left in the outskirts of Mendoza. Nearby one of the other great big wineries of centuries past has been torn down and turned into a supermarket and most of the others, those which haven’t been demolished, are left abandoned. For many people in the neighbourhood who have family who’ve worked in the winery over the decades, this building is part of the fabric of the city.
“Many people have a romantic connection with this territory and now can see this building live again,” Emilie finishes. “When they restored this building it was also a restoration of a patrimony.”
A visit to Bodegas Caro reveals the way in which the architecture and wines both tell a story of tradition and history, and also one of innovation and the future.
Text by Amanda Barnes