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Note: This is part of a series of profiles on Twin Citians who have fulfilled the dream of starting their own wineries.
Eugenio Meschini came up with a novel way to make ends meet for his fledgling winery.
"He doesn't pay his sales staff," said his wife, Teresa, aka the sales staff, at least when she's not toiling at her full-time job: raising four children. "It's enough to get out of the house," she added with a smile over a glass of their delicious malbec.
Small wonder that the Minneapolis couple's winery is called Famiglia Meschini. They own the vineyard and the import/distribution company that disseminates the wines. Oh, and he helps out with the winemaking in Argentina, during breaks from his full-time job at Cargill.
"This is our passion, our hobby," said Eugenio.
It was just five years ago that the Meschinis bought 65 acres and planted vines in the Mendoza region of Eugenio's native country. The 2008 vintage is their first made with their own grapes, and they still sell about 95 percent of their crop.
The Meschinis head south of the equator every year to soak in a decidedly different culture. "There's donkeys in the street," Eugenio said, "and people have time to talk to you. There's a different concept of time there. Time goes slower because dinner is at 10:30."
Eugenio heads there again for wine work, but in the viticultural rather than the vinicultural end of the enterprise. "I don't have a say on vineyard management," he said. "I have more involvement on the style of the wines. What it is that we like and what it is that we think the U.S. market will like, that's my 5 cents."
And there's a lot to like with the wines. The $11 Premium line includes a juicy, vivacious sauvignon blanc, an unoaked chardonnay, a dark and layered malbec and a malbec-syrah blend (see Wine of the Week, below). There's also a Reserva line at $16 and a bold but elegant $33 Gran Reserva cabernet that could hold its own with Napa cabs at twice that price.
To keep prices manageable, the Meschinis, who met as students at St. Thomas University (she's from Rochester), started their own import/distribution operation, VinoAndes. They bring in four other South American wines, but the main purpose is to not have to pay middlemen.
"We can make it work so long as we export and import and distribute here," he said, adding that the economic downturn didn't hurt them as much "because we only have 100 cases of that top-tier wine."
If that hadn't worked out, though, the Meschinis had a backup plan.
"We said 'If we don't sell the wine, we will drink it ourselves,'" Teresa said with a chuckle.