For Jon Malinski, launching a winery in Argentina was relatively easy. But building a small barrel to dispense his wine?
“Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said the Lakeville businessman. “You look at it and can’t believe something so basic could be so challenging.”
Perfecting the barrel mechanisms took six years, with lots of “connectors that didn’t connect” the wine pouches with the tap in front of the barrel. Finally, Malinski got it working like a traditional beer keg does, dispensing whatever quantity of wine one desires at a time.
The “wine kegs” are being sold for $199 at dozens of retail outlets, including, appropriately enough, the Liquor Barrels in Mahtomedi and St. Louis Park (the wine pouches are sold separately). Several area venues, among them Main Street After Hours in Lakeville, Pinstripes in Edina and Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau in St. Paul, are using the kegs for glass pours.
The wine in the 4-liter pouches (just over a gallon) lasts for 60 days. And this is not your standard box wine, either: It’s some quite tasty varietals and blends from Piattelli, Malinski’s winery in Argentina.
Suddenly a vintner
While the barrel project was a natural outgrowth, launching a winery came out of nowhere.
“Wine wasn’t ever really a passion for us,” Malinski said. “We just enjoyed wine specific to the type of food we were eating.”
During a 2000 trip to Argentina on unrelated business (his office-equipment enterprise), he got a call from one of his managers in California. “He asked if I had ever considered owning a winery,” Malinski said. “Well, that was probably the furthest thing from my mind.” But he dove in, largely because he liked the people and the place, Cafayate in the province of Salta.
“We had gone a couple of times and loved Argentina,” said his wife, Arlene. “The lake region there is like Yellowstone on steroids, Jackson Hole on steroids.”
He shared her enthusiasm. “The water there is absolutely pristine, and the air,” he said. “The people are really friendly. You can leave your car running while going into a store. Little children are playing in the streets at 10 p.m.”
The partnership with the family that gave the winery its name dissolved, and the Malinskis assumed 100 percent ownership. To help facilitate distribution of the wines, he opened an import/wholesale company, Vinocopia, in Richfield.
And he let the folks in Argentina do their thing. “One of the mistakes wineries sometimes make is to send their people to manage in a different culture,” Malinski said. “The further you stay away from them, the better for the wines. You’re in a different culture; accept it. [Consulting winemaker] Roberto [de la Mota] is why the wines are what they are, not me.”
What they are is tasty, balanced and expressive. Piattelli makes a really nice chardonnay, a lovely torrontés and a sturdy cabernet sauvignon. But the primary focus is on malbec, with two varietal bottlings (Premium and Grand Reserve) and as part of a splendid blend (with merlot and cab) called Trinita.
All along, Malinski was tinkering with that infernal barrel design.
But it was not all hardship, he admitted. “We tested 11 different inserts over four days on a fishing trip with the guys.”
Chances are, some flavorful malbec was consumed during that process.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4