Spend any time with Jorge Riccitelli, 63, winemaker for Bodega Norton since 1992, and it’s immediately apparent that he’s a man who loves his job. The smile on his face is constant, his passion for making the best wines possible is palpable and his pride for his native Mendoza comes across loud and clear.
“We are owned by the same family that owns Swarovski Crystal,” says Riccitelli. “When you make the best crystal in the world, it’s only natural that the goal at Norton is to make wines of that same quality.”
The underlying difference, however, is that crystal is largely a man-made product, while wine, according to Riccitelli, is made in the vineyards, a philosophy he’s believed in since his first days of winemaking at Bodega Etchart in Argentina’s northern Salta region.
Two decades ago, Riccitelli signed on with Norton in his native Mendoza just a few years after Gernot Langes-Swarovski bought the winery, which was founded in 1895 by Edmund Norton, an English railway engineer.
The first thing Riccitelli and his bosses at Norton did to show they were serious about making fine modern wines was introduce Privada in 1994. In recent years, Privada, either in its varietal Malbec form or as a Bordeaux-style blend, has been a regular 90-plus scorer, costing less than $30.
“Like all of our wines, Privada is a ‘happy’ wine,” says Riccitelli. “It fits squarely into our goal, which is to make wines that are fun to drink, elegant and refined. As a winemaker, I want one thing more than anything: to give pleasure to the consumer.”
In naming Riccitelli our Winemaker of the Year for 2012, Wine Enthusiast commends him for helping build Norton into a highly successful global wine brand while crafting wines that deliver quality across the full price spectrum.
In addition to Privada, other top-shelf wines that have been introduced during Riccitelli’s tenure include Perdriel, a single-vineyard red blend that debuted in 1995 to mark the winery’s 100th anniversary; Gernot Langes, named after the winery’s principal owner; and Malbec Reserva, another perennially very good-to-excellent wine that costs less than $20.
Like most of the world’s most respected winemakers, Riccitelli is also a teacher and mentor. He oversees a team of four agronomists and 10 aspiring winemakers and interns. When asked what has changed the most in Argentina during his 20 years at Norton, Riccitelli answered in his typical light-hearted manner.
“For starters, I was a lot younger then. But clearly, the most important thing to have happened to Argentine wine is the rise of Malbec, especially in the United States,” he says. “It has become nothing short of huge for us. As the wines have evolved, so has the perception of Argentina. Because of this, I’m more proud than ever to make wine in Argentina, and particularly in Mendoza.”