Friday, September 9, 2011

Indian-origin entrepreneur builds wine chateau in Argentina

Abdul Aziz's farmhouse El Paraiso ( paradise ) in Mendoza.(IANS Photo)
Life's a voyage for this promising entrepreneur. Meet Aziz Abdul who has come a long way from his humble background in Asia to build a sprawling wine chateau in this beautiful Andean nation that is home to star footballers like Digeo Maradona and Lionel Messi.

Born to a Tamil father and a half-Vietnamese mother, Aziz can speak fluent Spanish and Vietnamese. "I am a foreigner in any country", he beams with a smile when asked to which country he belonged.

Aziz has named his chateau Hana, a combination of the initials of his two daughters, wife and the letter A of his name, said R. Viswanathan, Indian ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay who spent two days last month visiting his vineyard and listening to his stories over many glasses of Hana wine.

He produces high-end wine which sells for 90 pesos ($22) in wine shops in Argentina. His wine is also served in upscale hotels, restaurants and wine shops in Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, Mar del Plata, Cordoba and Rosario.

He was born in South Vietnam where he lived for the first 15 years. His father, a Tamil from Pondicherry, returned to India on losing their possessions when Saigon fell in 1975.

Aziz went to a French school in Pondicherry and later moved to Paris where he studied mathematics and thereafter computer science at the University of Orsay.

He worked for 20 years in the IT department of the French multinational group Lagardere. But he did not want to end up life staring at the computer screens.

He longed to have a quiet life in the countryside and was saving money to pursue his dream to own a vineyard and make his own wine.

While studying in Paris, he was a frequent visitor to the cellar of the home of one of his friends. He then studied viticulture and enology. The taste for wine led him to explore vineyards in France and beyond. As soon as he had the minimum savings he started looking to buy a vineyard.

The French and European ones being expensive, he tried India, hoping he would be able to re-root himself to his fatherland. But it did not work out.

Thereafter, Aziz came to Argentina, the fifth largest wine producer in the world. He bought a 15-hectare vineyard on the outskirts of San Rafael city in Mendoza province in 2008 where he grows malbec, cabernet sauvignon and bonarda varietals. He is into his fourth crop this year.

He put up a new boutique winery, with a capacity of 85,000 litres. He manages the farm with the help of a local husband-wife pair and an enologist.

He enjoys taking care of the plants and the processing with an eye for every detail. Aziz's favourite quotation: "God had created water, men the wines (by Victor Hugo)."

Aziz has integrated well in the small town of San Rafael. While he makes upscale wine he himself leads a simple life. He is connected to his family in Paris by skype, said Viswanathan.

He is planning to start exports soon. How about exporting to India? He beams with yet another smile.

His wife shares her time between her husband in Argentina and daughters who live in their apartment, a few blocks from Eiffel tower in Paris.

Like Aziz, many foreigners are investing in vineyards in Mendoza for the pleasure and pride of having their own vineyard and boutique winery. Aziz had bought the vineyard from an American investor. There is no restriction on foreign investment. Aziz's own investment in the vineyard and winery is about $500,000.

The climate in Mendoza is perfect for the grapes with warm days, cold nights and sunshine throughout the year, said Viswanathan.

Wine exports from Argentina reached $864 million in 2010. Argentine wines are getting more recognition in the international markets in recent years. They have overtaken the Chilean wines in the US market. Malbec has become famous around the world as the signature wine of Argentina.



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