¨I am a foreigner in any country¨, This is how Aziz Abdul responded with a smile when I asked him to which country he belonged. ¨What is your mother tongue?¨. He smiled again, greeted me in Tamil, switched to English with heavy French accent and then completed the conversation in fluent Spanish. He was born in South Vietnam where he lived for the first fifteen years. He speaks Vietnamese like a native. His mother is half-Vietnamese and her mother local Vietnamese. His father, a Tamil from Pondicherry. When Saigon fell in 1975, his family lost everything. They went back to Pondicherry and started a new life running "Chez Aziz" a gourmet restaurant . Aziz went to the French school there and improved his Tamil language. He went to Paris for higher education. He studied mathematics and thereafter computer science at the University of Orsay. He fell in love with Najma from Madagascar who was studying Sanskrit in Paris. I raised my eyebrows … With his trade mark smile, he said Najma chose to learn Sanskrit since she wanted to get back to the root of her original country. She is an Ismaili muslim of Gujrati origin and speaks fluent Gujrati. They have two daughters. Aziz has named his wine Chateau Hana, a combination of the initials of his family- H- Hema his first daughter (his wife is a fan of Hemamalini), A- Anjuli, the second daughter, N- Najma, the wife and A for Aziz.
Aziz produces high-end wine which sells for 90 pesos ( 22 US $ ) in the wine shops of Argentina. His wine is served in the upscale hotels such as Park Hyatt and in exclusive restaurants and high-end wine shops in Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, Mar del Plata, Cordoba and Rosario. Info on his wine http://www.chateauhana.com
He is planning to start exports soon. How about exporting to India?, I ask him and he beams with yet another smile. When we served his wine at our embassy receptions, the guests were ecstatic. We told our guests, it is an Argentine Wine made with Indian hands and spirit.
Picture: Aziz in El Paraiso ( paradise ), his house on the left, winery on the right and vineyard behind.
Aziz 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 wanted to become his own boss and longed to have a quiet life in countryside. He was saving money to pursue his dream- to own a vineyard and make his own wine.
Aziz Abdul…drinking and making wine? I could not hide my puzzle. Aziz smiled again and started another story. It was his father, a Muslim who enjoyed alcohol and let his son also follow. He was liberal and cosmopolitan and inspired his son too. While studying in Paris, Aziz tried wine and liked it. He was a frequent visitor to the cellar of the home of one of his university friends. He was very excited to drink a 21- years old Morgon on the 21st birthday of his friend. The taste for wine lead him to explore the vineyards in France and beyond. He visited the wineries and got to meet wine makers such as Alexandre Thienpont and Denis Lurton. He studied viticulture and enology.The taste for wine became a passion. 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. He visited the wine growing areas of India hoping that he would be able reroot 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. He put up a brand new boutique winery, with a capacity of 85, 000 litres. He is into his fourth crop this year. He grows malbec, cabernet sauvignon and bonarda varietals. He manages the farm himself with the help of a local husband-wife pair who live in the farmhouse. During harvest season, he hires extra help. He takes the help of an Argentine enologist too. He uses certain French practices in the growing of grapes, pruning of the plant and in the making of wines, different from the the local Argentine way of doing things. 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- Victor Hugo¨.
Aziz has integrated well in the small town San Rafael society. He speaks fluent spanish and has made a number of friends. While he makes upscale wine he himself leads a simple life. He enjoys working with his own hands in the vineyard and the winery. He literally breathes the aroma of his wine every day and night since his house is full of wine cases all around. When he gets time, he plays tennis and goes for skiing in winter. He is connected to his family in Paris by skype. His wife shares her time between the husband in Argentina and the 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. Of course, it is a solid investment too, given the constant appreciation of the price of the land and the profitability of wine business. Aziz had bought the vineyard from an American investor. A few retired people also settle down in the farm houses surrounded by their own vineyards or spend a few months every year. The Argentine prices are affordable and vineyards and land are available. There is no restriction on foreign investment. Aziz's own investment in the vineyard and winery is about 500,000 dollars. The cost of living in Mendoza is low while the quality of life is excellent with peaceful atmosphere and friendly local people. The climate is perfect for the grapes with warm days and cold nights and sunshine throughout the year.