I enjoy wine and have endeavored to imbibe on a semi-regular basis over the past forty years or so. I found that a side-benefit of enjoying wine was my actually learning something about the stuff. And I found all that learning quite fascinating . . . . . to the point that I decided to buy vineyard land, grow grapes and become (ahem) a famous winemaker. All this thinking took place a number of years ago as I was about to turn age 70. What a silly fellow.
Dave FeltonProprietor of Felton Family Farms
Argentine malbec: famous due to its luscious flavors
So I began looking for good vineyard land at an approachable price. I found grape-growing real estate on the west coast of the United States overly expensive. But then I began chatting with a friend about Argentina’s Mendoza wine region. I knew the area, as well as the malbec grape. Argentine malbec has become famous due to its luscious flavors when grown in the nutrient-rich alluvial plains which flow down from the towering Andes to the west. And the price sounded right. So, following some extensive due diligence, I decided to become a famous winemaker in Argentina (!!)
Now that’s a rather big leap, especially for an older fellow from the northern hemisphere. In Latin America, passion rules. Latin passion agitates the blood, which leads to emotional decisions… such as buying a vineyard and planning to become a famous winemaker(!). We hired a good US attorney, who advised that we hire a good Argentine attorney. And then we located and bought land in the Uco Valley, approximately fifty miles south of the town of Mendoza, in an area surrounded by flourishing vineyards. This was the beginning of the realization that becoming a famous winemaker may prove to be . . . . . hmmm, expensive.
We decided to buy raw vineyard land rather than spend considerably more to buy someone else’s already-flourishing vineyard. Still, once cleared, irrigated, trellised and planted, it would take five or six years before we’d have “estate” grapes that either could be sold or made into good wine.
…be years before we’d have grapes that could be made into wine
Remember that I had become passionate. I wanted my own wine. And, given my age, it might be better to have it soon. Therefore, I would have to buy grapes. I would blend those grapes into a perfect combination. Then I’d put that perfect blend of grapes into a fine oak barrel. And after a suitable time, I’d bottle that perfect blend, cork it, label it, box it and ship it back to my home in the United States. This IS becoming expensive.
It all worked. After purchasing the land in 2017, I also began buying the juice which would go into our first blend. Working with a professional winemaker over a long afternoon, I decided upon a blend of 70% malbec / 20% merlot / 10% cabernet franc grapes, which we made into the 2016 vintage of Felton Family Farms “C-Cubed”. It’s quite good. (Praise the heavens).
I’ve since returned regularly to our vineyard where, as of 2020, my three-year old vines are stretching toward the sky, some six feet tall and producing clusters of beautiful small malbec grapes. We’ve now blended four different vintages using purchased grapes, including our most recent 2019 FFF C-Cubed done in early March of 2020.
(We last arrived in Argentina in late February 2020 just as the news of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming widespread. Upon arriving back into Los Angeles on the 11th of March, we went into a self-imposed quarantine and have been careful ever since.)
Each of our four vintages has been a different blend of malbec-focused red grapes. We’ve used as much as 70% malbec in the blends and as little as 50%. We’ve tried blending, in different percentages, with malbec, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and syrah. Originally, I had planned on only using the great grapes found in “Bordeaux” blends. But, beginning with the 2017 vintage, I found that the syrah juice was sooo good that I couldn’t ignore this “Rhone” grape. I’ve since used a portion of syrah in each of the last three vintages. And the resulting C-Cubed has been better for it.
Each Vintage of C-CUBED is a Malbec-led Red Blend
As of the beginning of 2020, our vineyard was approaching the completion of its third growing season in the Southern Hemisphere. The tops of some of the vines have reached the highest of the three trellis lines we’ve stretched across each row. They are still young, and it will be either 2022 or 2023 before we’ll have sufficiently mature vines producing grapes worthy of making fine wine. That’s okay. We have three interested adult children – daughters Kai & Casey, and son Chris, plus grandchildren Weston & Sophie – who plan on joining us on future visits to the vineyard. Eventually, they’ll be making the decisions concerning FFF & C-Cubed. In the meantime, we expect to continue to buy juice from the many vineyards all around us to blend into the best combination of flavors we can find.
I must admit that it’s really been great fun. I acknowledge that it’s still a hobby. I use a local Argentine wine cooperative near our vineyard to do all the hard work on the land. Yes, that’s expensive. My only serious professional involvement has been the time on site doing the actual blending for each vintage. We haven’t attempted to sell any of our wine yet, preferring to give it away to family, friends, charities and almost anyone who tries it and says with a straight face, “Mmm, this is really, good, Dave.”
Our 2017 vintage of Felton Family Farms “C-Cubed” is a blend of 50% malbec / 20% cabernet sauvignon / 20% merlot / 10% syrah. The syrah juice was absolutely delicious, but other buyers around us recognized that fact as well, limiting the amount we could add to our blend.
The blend for our 2018 vintage consists of 60% malbec / 20% syrah / 10% cabernet franc / 10% merlot. We were again especially pleased with the syrah component.
Our 2019 vintage has another new blend: 70% malbec / 20% syrah / 10% merlot. Once again, we felt the syrah juice made for a better wine, although the malbec this year was stunning.
PROPRIETOR OF FELTON FAMILY FARMS IN ARGENTINA’S UCO VALLEY
Dave Felton is the former global chairman of the London-based International Wine & Food Society, the largest independent gourmet dining organization in the world with over 6000 members in 30 countries. He currently serves as the Society’s Honorary President, an ambassadorial role, and he and wife Mitsuko have traveled regularly to visit many of the 130 branches. In recent years, their travel plans regularly found them in both hemispheres greeting a broad cross-section of members and tasting an equally broad collection of wines. As of 2020, COVID-19 has curtailed their travel.