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Argentina, the birthplace of the tango, is now the birthplace of a new winery started by a Texas couple.
Texas Tango: Ikal 1150 Winery
Argentina, the birthplace of the tango, is now the birthplace of a new winery started by a Texas couple. Sandra Beltran and Jerry Ward met in 2001 at the Ikal del Mar Hotel on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. The two hit it off immediately and as luck would have it, they were both from Houston. Once back in the Bayou City, they realized they shared many of the same interests, including gourmet foods, fine wine and travel. During their courtship, they traveled to Napa Valley for harvest season and also visited the wine regions of Australia, France and Italy. They eventually married in 2003.
The happy couple and a group of entrepreneurial friends took a hiking trip to Argentina’s Aconcagua Mountain and were amazed by the region’s natural beauty and fantastic wines. That trip sparked the idea to start their own vineyard. When it came time to name the winery, they chose the name “Ikal 1150,” which comes from the Mayan word for “poetry” and the altitude of the grape fields, in meters. The Ikal name is a constant reminder of the hotel where their personal and business journey began.
The Ikal 1150 vineyard is located in the hills of Mendoza, Argentina, near where the couple took their hiking trip. The winery produces three distinctive vintages: a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Malbec, and a Chardonnay. The grapes are grown in sandy, rocky soil bathed with lots of sunshine by day and bright stars and cool dry air at night. The challenging soil conditions and temperature variance make the vines struggle and the fruit ripen slowly, giving the wines their signature body and distinct flavor, which wine drinkers describe as “poetry in a bottle,” partly due to the name and partly due to the unique taste.
The couple chose to launch the wine in their home state. They knew that Texans love good food and good wine and they could not think of a better place to get it started. They are determined to make it successful and are splitting the responsibilities to make it happen. Jerry focuses on the day-to-day operations of the company and Sandra handles the public relations, sales and marketing. They are also still working their day jobs. Jerry is an Oracle consultant and Sandra runs a management and marketing company for luxury hotels.
“It has definitely been an uphill battle trying to launch the wine in a distressed economy, where the market is saturated with good wines and very low prices.” said Sandra. “The one thing that keeps us going is the moral support from good friends, and the warm reception we get from restaurants when they find out we are Texans . . . that keeps us motivated.”
Ikal 1150 only produces 1000 cases for the U.S. each year, with the majority going to Texas. The company’s wines won the San Diego Critics Challenge Award in 2008 and Bronze medals at the Houston Rodeo “Bits and Bites” competition in 2009.
So what’s next for Houston’s wine duo? They are currently developing the Ikal Mendoza luxury hotel, set to open in 2012, which will sit next to the grape fields in Argentina and treat guests to the finest accommodations, food and – of course – wines. But what about the tango? You can’t have an Argentinean winery without throwing in some tango, can you? “Last month we were in Argentina,” said Sandra, “and we took tango lessons at Puro Tango Studio. According to the teacher, I need to ‘practice in my kitchen’ before I go back. Not an easy dance to learn!” It’s not easy to start a winery, either, but Sandra and Jerry seem to be capable of both.
You can buy Ikal 1150 wines and get information on the group’s other ventures at www.1150wine.com.
Gulfscapes sat down with Sandra and Jerry recently. Here’s our interview.
What made you choose Argentina for the winery? Our first vineyard experience was in Napa and Sonoma Valley in California. We immediately felt a calling to the vineyards and the wineries there, but the prices made it unattainable. We took a vacation to Australia, and visited the wine country in the Barossa Valley and also in western Australia. We really liked Australia, but realized that the distances would be too much, without a partner there. We then went to Argentina and fell in love with the beauty, the people and the terrain. As a bonus one of our partners, Daniel Silva, lives there. He is a native and handles the day-to-day operation of the vineyard. With a trusted friend and partner in Argentina, it just made perfect sense.
Can you suggest a couple of food parings for each of your wines?The wines are each produced in the “Old World” style. Our winemaker trained in France, and we have gravitated to the more balanced, food friendly style of wines. The Chardonnay pairs particularly well with ceviche and other seafood including shellfish. We use no malolactic fermentation so there is no butter, and the acidity and taste of the grapes is preserved.
The Malbec is our personal favorite. It has a good balance between minerality, fruit, and spice. We love it by itself or with red and white meats, marinated chicken, and anything spicy. Careful, it might fan the flames! BBQ is sometimes difficult to pair with wine, but Malbec does the trick.
Our Cabernet Sauvignon is our boldest wine, but it is still very balanced and best enjoyed with food. The high altitude makes the tannins round and the finish sweet. Perfect with a beef or buffalo steak, nutty cheeses, or bitter chocolate.
For 2009, we’re also releasing a Torrontes and a Pinot Noir. Torrontes is a uniquely Argentine grape with lots of floral notes and good acidity. It pairs well with white meats like pork and game as well as mild- to medium-bodied cheeses. Pinot Noir is not typical of Mendoza, but our vineyard’s high altitude, low temperature micro-climate and our viticulturist’s finesse made it possible. The Pinot Noir has a solid earth and spice profile that balances its cherry fruit. We like it with chicken, white meats, and even fish!
Did you learn to make wine, or did you partner with a vintner? Together with our partner, we assembled a great team and we’re fortunate that their palettes match ours. We like to participate in the blending when possible, but we’re fortunate these talented individuals know it better than we. Luis Martinez is the head enologist. He is a native Argentine who trained both in Argentina and France. Ultimately, Luis makes the wine. Ricardo Alvarez is our viticulturist and also manages the daily operations of the vineyard. Ricardo has worked with us from day one, and has built or planted just about every thing here.