By DALE ROBERTSON Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Sept. 15, 2009, 4:04PM please see link below...
On a lark, Ward and a buddy took a vacation to Mexico's Mayan Riviera back in 2001. In hindsight, he admits they stayed in the wrong place for a couple of young, single guys looking to have fun.
“We found out it was definitely a couples' hotel,” Ward says.
But boy did his story ever have a happy ending. Sandra Beltran, who handled marketing for the small luxury property, is now Ward's wife, and they have a 4½-year-old daughter. Also, one of the owners is their partner in a new winery in Argentina's Mendoza.
Beltran was born in El Salvador but has lived in Houston almost all of her life. They appear to be the only Texans producing wine in Mendoza, where, a half-century on, the high-altitude vineyards may well be considered the world's best. They're already well-established in the viticultural big leagues.
While Ward and Beltran could have probably picked a better time to introduce their Ikal 1150 wines — a malbec, a cabernet and a chardonnay, with a torrontés and a pinot noir to arrive soon — they have been warmly embraced in Houston. It hasn't hurt that the malbec, their flagship and the wine they make the most of by far (700 cases), has played to some critical acclaim, winning a Critics Gold Award in its first international competition in San Diego in May 2008.
Ward and Beltran are handling the marketing pretty much by themselves, personally schlepping bottles around and sending them off to publications for tasting. Neither have quit their respective day jobs, by the way. They've got a foot in the door, but there's a long, hard road still to travel. It's one thing to make the wine. It's another to get it legally into the country and into the customer's glass.
“We had no idea the paperwork would be so complicated,” Beltran says.
The 38-year-old Ward's passion for wine flowered early on. Beltran, 41, confesses she only fell in love with the stuff after she fell in love with Ward. Their desire to enter the business coalesced after a memorable trip to California's Napa Valley. They visited Australia first, but their aforementioned partner is an Argentine. With him on board, it only made sense to instead head for the hills of Mendoza.
The 1150, by the way, refers to the altitude (in meters) of their vineyard in the Valle de Uco in the Tupungato region, where the Andes provide a spectacular backdrop. That's about 3,770 feet. Factor in the rocky soil, the minimal annual rainfall and the dramatic daily temperature extremes, and it's paradise for grapes, particularly malbec.
As for “Ikal,” that was also the name of the magical little hotel in Playa del Carmen where Ward and Beltran so serendipitously met. In the ancient Mayan language, Ikal means “poetry.” What else is wine but bottled poetry?