Michael Halstrick, CEO of Bodega Norton, talks about the Swarovski family-owned Argentinian winery and its plans to expand into the Southeast Asia market.
Among the most esteemed wineries in Argentina is Bodega Norton, a now family-owned winery in the Mendoza area. It was founded in 1895 by English engineer Sir Edmund James Palmer Norton, which was thereafter acquired by Austrian businessman Gernot Langes-Swarovski, who also once helmed the renowned crystal empire, Swarovski. The winery is now run by Michael Halstrick, a member of the Swarovski family, who was appointed CEO in 2021. As I welcomed him to commemorate his first visit in Singapore, he tugs at his suit halfway through our conversation. “I don’t enjoy wearing these things,” he said matter-of-factly. He explained to me how he prefers wearing something casual at wine presentations because of its stereotypical affluence. But his presence in Singapore calls for occasion: In partnership with Bottles & Bottles, Bodega Norton makes its debut in the Singapore market, with further plans to expand in the Southeast Asia region.
While he doesn’t carry the Swarovski name, the only affiliation one would be able to make upon meeting Halstrick is the black Swarovski watch on his left wrist that’s designed with a faceted dome and two slim baton hands to tell the time. “It's obviously different,” said Halstrick, when I asked him about the similarities in brand philosophies between Swarovski and Norton. “I can only speak for the wine business, but whatever we do as a family, we have a saying that in order to produce quality, you have to surround yourself with it.”
Halstrick further harped on a good point, with it being that Norton is an easy brand to pronounce. It’s a detail that’s commonly overlooked, yet important to the average consumer, because having a name that’s easy to remember builds on customer loyalty. “You can pronounce it in every country in the world, which is not what every brand can say,” explained Halstrick. “There are some labels that people have to get used to, only to still make a mistake because they may not speak the language.”
Bodega Norton has an extensive range, comprising great entry-level white wines up to the Altura collection that champions the use of Malbec grapes, an Argentinian grape native, resulting in a wine that exhibits intensive fruitiness due to the extreme high-altitude terroir grown in the Uco Valley up to 4,265 ft above sea level. Malbec is also used in the Privada line up of wines, a blend that was originally reserved for the family’s private cellar.
I asked Halstrick about the wine’s heralded position - while the more acquainted would be able to identify an illustrious wine, arguably, the taste of a great wine is subjective. “There are unique wines that cannot be repeated,” answered Halstrick. “What we are looking for are these crystals that have to be polished within the different terroirs. It’s an opportunity for us to say that different expressions produce a different shine. It's not just a matter of pricing; even with a lower end wine, it has to be nice and fruity, well made and elegant.”
In honor of his late father, the top cuvée is the rich, dense, and dark Gernot Langes, a Malbec-dominated blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. Malbec grapes have put Argentinian viticulture on the world map, lending to the reputation of Argentinian wines. “First of all, without sounding stuck up, Malbec and Norton are pretty much synonymous,” said Halstrick, when asked about Norton’s relevance in the competitive nature of the wine industry. “The oldest Malbec is a 1974 vintage, and it’s still very much drinkable today.” On trends, he credits the growing popularity of Malbec Rosé and white wines among consumers post-pandemic.
In addition to regional expansions, Bodega Norton is heavily invested in sustainability practices, as well as building a sparkling wine facility to meet demands in Argentina - and to be the first to produce one from grapes harvested over 900 meters above sea level.
While Halstrick never felt compelled to join the family business, a slight diversion in his career path led him right back to where he started anyway. “Before Bodega Norton, I was working at a bank. But I got back into the winery because it’s an exciting industry where you get to meet new people. And it’s the strangest thing because you could be in a room full of bankers, but everybody wants to know the wine guy, and that opens up doors.”