400 days to travel the world…only stopping to eat, drink, and everything in-between.

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Day 397 of 400: Morning in Valle de Uco, Evening at the National Grape Harvest Festival – Argentina

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As soon as that alarm went off, we sleepily threw on a sweatshirt and went outside to watch the sun come up on the O’Fournier vineyard. Slowly the bright coral colors swept through the sky and everything went from dim and dark to the beginning of a bright and shiny new day in wine country. It was quiet and chilly but very calming and stunningly beautiful.

Jose (owner of O’Fournier) came over a bit later and had one of his employees cook us all breakfast in the condo while we sipped coffee and talked business with big grins on our faces. He went all in with us…now that we had been wined/dined and had a true appreciation for the property itself, it was time to talk specifics. Are we going to take the plunge? Change our lifestyle from corporate ladder to wine makers? We asked more questions and then requested the paperwork!! Jose left and we walked over to the plot of land we were about to own…the vines were only about 2 ft high, the soil was really rocky and the location of the plot was far enough away from the winery to keep people from picking our grapes, but close enough for the view. We took the camera out and took a short video clip thanking Jose for the experience and telling him we wanted to move forward. We thought it would be really cool to send him the video via email and it would mark the beginning of our new journey.

Are we crazy?? We are going to buy property in another country…what if a dictator takes over and decides the land is no longer ours? Oh and by the way…we have been traveling for the past year and have no jobs…is this the time to be making a big cash payment that will wipe out our savings?

Once the paperwork was in our email box…it was time to make the final decision. After thinking about how big of a risk it was at this particular time…when we needed to get home to find jobs and a place to live, the responsible side of us decided we really couldn’t do this right now. If a couple of our friends would have gone in on it with us…it would have been such an easy decision, but it was hard for them to imagine buying a piece of property that they hadn’t seen…in a country they had never stepped foot into. If only…they just gambled a little…we could have all had a super fun side gig together and would have had a blast doing so. But, they were kind of caught up with daily responsibilities…in reality some of them had kids or were having kids soon and the timing was just off. With others…they just didn’t have the funds. Such a bummer…

We thanked Jose sincerely for the opportunity and the amazing experience. He said to keep in touch, we definitely will.

We left the gorgeous vines and drove into downtown Mendoza. It was a bit confusing trying to find our boutique hotel but finally found it and got checked into the room for a little bit of downtime before the big show tonight.

During the months of Dec/Jan/Feb the 18 departments (districts) of Mendoza celebrate the new grape harvest with various festivities such as traditional shows, food preparation and choosing of their harvest queen. Then…in the early days of March the main event is held bringing together all the districts and people from various countries to the National Grape Harvest Festival held in Mendoza in the Greek Theater (an open amphitheater type arena) which holds about 20,000 people.

As we were in various areas of Mendoza over the past couple weeks, we had seen one of the harvest queen parades…the girls were dressed in gowns sitting on convertibles/back of a trucks passing by in a parade. So…we were looking forward to the main event this evening – we were able to find tickets and our hotel organized a bus to get us there and back.

This National Harvest celebration started officially in 1936 and is held annually, but early celebrations have been dated back to the 17th century. The Sunday before this Festival every year, they bless the fruits of harvest. We were excited to attend something so traditional and important to this country.

Of course the festivities started late in the evening as everything does in Argentina. We scrambled off the bus and stopped at one of the many vendors along the sidewalk to grab some street food before finding our seats. The place was packed with people and we could feel an exciting buzz in the air for tonight’s show.

The show was very entertaining, there were 100s of dancers/actors in all kinds of costumes, music, lights with some performances seeming very traditional and others more modern. After all the dancing…the Mendoza Harvest Queen is announced and crowned out of the 18 finalists from the different departments which seemed to be a very big honor. After that…an impressive fireworks/laser show burst into the sky above us at about midnight to close out the evening.

We were very happy we got to experience this long-standing tradition with the people who are directly impacted by the grape harvest. Of course since Giff and I are such big wine lovers…it made it that much more special to sit amongst the locals whose blood, sweat and tears go into those grapes.

It was a little crazy getting out of there as it would be for any big show with thousands of people trying to get out of one parking lot, but we finally did and went straight to bed as it was in the early hours of the morning.

Day 394 of 400: The Vines of Mendoza – Valle de Uco, Argentina

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If something puts a smile on your face every time you think of it…if this same something is exciting to talk about…if it would be a dream come true and it was within reach would you take it? But, what if it would cause a complete lifestyle change…it may never make any profit and would be a huge risk…would you still take it?

The idea of owning a vineyard was more of a retirement thought for later in life until O’Fournier brought up the idea as a real possibility. Since then, we have not been able to get the concept out of our heads! Although we were seriously wined, dined and romanticized by the owner Jose Manuel…like any purchase we needed to look at other options. If we are really considering buying a vineyard in Argentina…are we looking at a competitive price and a quality grape?

The Vines of Mendoza is another company out here offering investors to purchase 3-10 acres of vines on their 1500 acre property. Today they invited us onto their vineyard…they were harvesting grapes. We were a bit late when we arrived but eventually found them down a dirt road in the middle of the vines. Let me paint the scene for you…the sun was shining, the air was perfectly warm, the picturesque mountains stood strong in the background and the grapes were plump and begging to be picked from the vine. As soon as we arrived, they greeted us, gave us gloves, garden shears and a bin. We walked between the vines in the dirt with smirks on our faces, and started clipping those beautiful grapes until our bin was full.

We loaded our bin of grapes onto the truck and stopped to take a group picture with the other grape pickers (and potentially new vineyard owners) before heading up to the warehouse where the grapes would go through the de-stemming machine. The grapes are poured into the top of the machine and then the stems are taken away from the fruit, emptied into one bin as the grapes flow through the machine where someone hand picks any stems that were missed or grapes that don’t look good. We all gathered around the conveyor belt to help remove the unwanted stuff while letting the perfect fruit pass by.

The owners took the small group of us through the warehouse to show where the wine barrels were being stored and the small office in which they experiment by mixing and matching different varietals. Once the warehouse tour was complete, they moved us onto the outdoor patio and opened a few bottles of wine to have us taste the results of hard-work put into a bottle. After wine tasting and mingling, we went over to the part of their property which was under construction. There was a sign showing what the layout will eventually look like, private estates, spa and resort. Hmmmm…we could even live on the wine property…very tempting!

For lunch we all gathered around a long wooden table that easily sat about 30 of us. They were treating us to a classic asado (BBQ)…plates were made of wood, like little individual cutting boards which were perfect for all the meats being served. As if we were one large family…the platters of food of all sorts but definitely focused on meat kept coming around, and we all talked and ate outside in the middle of the vineyard drinking its wine.

We had gone to this vineyard to learn about their ownership program and to maybe talk ourselves out of this whole lifestyle change, but as we left…we were even more excited. We had so much fun actually picking the fruit and watching it go through the process. Then to taste the final product, eat local food and socialize with other wine lovers from around the world made us think about our vineyard dream just a little bit more…

Day 391 of 400: Andes Mountains and Aconcagua National Park – Argentina

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After a quick breakfast of homemade bread/jam, we spoke with the owner about where to go and how to get there etc. He said there were some nice hiking trails in the area but that we needed to get going because it gets hot during the day and dark early.

We packed a quick day pack and were on our way driving through what felt like a picture on route 7, the highway between Argentina and Chile. This was one of the routes used by General San Martin to drive the Spanish Empire out of Chile. The landscape was arid and mountainous with almost no people in sight. We saw a sign marking a trail so pulled off onto the windy gravel road and parked the car. We made our way down the trail and walked right into an old bridge made of rocks. We had fun climbing it and posing for the camera until a couple other people came over to the bridge and pointed out that it was a monument in honor of the army of the Andes and General Jose de San Martin. The bridge wasn’t actually used when the troops were walking through the mountains (which took them approx. 25 days) but was built as a monument in their honor…we really were not supposed to be climbing it-oops!

After our modeling shoot in the middle of the mountains we continued on our way until we reached the Aconcagua Park which consisted of 175,444 acres and of course the main attraction, Aconcagua Mountain reaching 13,123 ft high…the tallest mountain in the Americas.

We parked and walked inside the visitor center to listen to some information about the park and get a map showing a nice walking trail with view points including a glacier. We had dressed for hot weather but it was chilly and windy so we grabbed our jackets and walked onto the trail. It was nice and peaceful and we casually meandered along the path eating an apple, breathing in fresh air and admiring the backdrops of snow-capped mountains, green grass and a small lake. The walk took us close to an hour and then we decided it was time to find some dinner and get back to our little dome in the middle of no where.

On the way back, there was a group of vendors selling trinkets on the side of the road so we stopped briefly to take a look but didn’t see anything of interest. For dinner, we sat at one of the few restaurants and ordered grilled chicken which was served on our own hot grill. We ate and relaxed from our day of sight-seeing before arriving back at our place for the evening.

Aconcagua National Park…and Picheuta River Bridge

Day 390 of 400: Uspallata Valley – Argentina

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Today we are driving a couple of hours outside of Mendoza deep into the Andes Mountains to an area called Uspallata Valley. We had found a place on airbnb.com which looked really cool…they were white dome/tent-like things in the middle of no-where, surrounded by mountains and specifically mentioned star-gazing. It was only about $90-100 per night and we thought it would be fun to explore/hike through the mountains.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped at a little deli to get picnic stuff for the road…we weren’t sure if there would be places for food once we were out in the wilderness! The people in the deli of course did not speak English but we managed to get our orders in…we got various sliced meats, cheeses, bread, water and chips.

The drive was beautiful…very curvy through the mountains which were both green but also arid. We also drove by a crystal blue lake, it was nice to get some fresh air and get away from the difficult job of wine tasting for a couple of days.

After a few hours, we saw a small town with a few restaurants and decided to stop for some food before checking into our place. It was a parradilla (or open fire) which was a common type of restaurant known for its grilled meats. We sat out on the porch for an hour or so in the small mountain town eating our meat and salad. Back in the car, the navigator said we were pretty close to our “dome”. As we drove down an open road, and knew we were within a mile of our place…we saw a couple of white domes sitting literally in the middle of nothing…no civilization, no neighbors, no nothing except mountains and rocky ground. The wind was really whipping around since the domes were located on a very flat area. We pulled into the dirt driveway which was labeled 3 frutas and were greeted by the owner. He and his family stayed in the large white dome and right next door was a smaller one, which was our new home for the next 2 nights. Thankfully there was a toilet, shower and bed. It reminded us of an igloo minus the cold. He explained there was no refrigerator but showed us a reservoir near the driveway which was basically a cold water stream underground. He had tied a long rope to a bucket which he then slowly put down into the water to keep whatever was in the bucket cold, we of course placed a bottle of wine in it.

He also told us there was a pool down the path…we walked down rocky/grassy path to find the world’s smallest pool…it could not even be called a kiddie pool and it was ice-cold-no thanks.

Being out there was such a drastic change from being in civilization where you could drive a couple of minutes down the road and be shopping or eating etc. It forced us to slow down and appreciate the scenery. The owner explained there were some hiking trails nearby but that it would need to be tomorrow b/c soon it would be dark. He asked us what time to have breakfast ready which would be homemade bread and juice. He also took out his big expensive telescope and placed it outside our dome so we could look at the stars later in the evening.

We relaxed in our dome, ate our picnic stuff for dinner and then when it was dark, sat outside in simple chairs looking up at the gorgeous open sky full of twinkling stars. The telescope was heavy-duty and it was the first time we saw the planet of Saturn and its rings/moons as well as the craters of the moon. It was quite an experience to look at a planet or star…then stop looking for a minute or two to find when we went back to look at that same planet, it wasn’t there. And that was because we needed to move the telescope over a bit…the earth was turning and therefore we had to change our viewpoint. It was so interesting to see with our own eyes the impact of how fast the earth was spinning.

After entertaining ourselves outside in the cold…we moved into the dome to get to bed early. We want to be up early and get a head-start on hiking before it gets too hot.

Day 388 of 400: Wine Tour and Tasting at Bodega Tapiz – Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina

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The winery tour of Bodega Tapiz started out in their vineyard…the tour guide had us take a close look at the grapevines, how they are watered, the soil they were planted in and then of course how the grape tasted straight off the vine.

We followed the guide towards the huge warehouse and stopped to listen briefly as to which piece of machinery was used for what during the wine making process. Once inside the building, we saw tons of stainless steel tanks holding all kinds of wine and we listened to the details of aging wine…in fact, the tour guide gave us each a wine glass and had us taste “grape juice” which had only been in the tank for a handful of days vs. the same grape juice which had been aging for quite some time in a different tank. We had never gotten to taste the juice out of a tank that early in the wine making process and were very impressed by how much we were learning in this particular tour. For example, when we tasted the grape off the vine, it was important not to chew the seeds nor the skin of the grape which have all the tannins in them…just the juice to see how sweet it was.

After our tank tasting, we walked over to the room in the back filled to the ceiling with oak barrels. There was a women outside of the room standing in front of a line of barrels with gloves on and what looked like a long piece of wire with a white tab on the end of it. The white tab was lit with a match and started burning like incense, she then placed it inside the barrel. The white tab was actually sulfur dioxide and they were using this method to keep the barrels clean when there was no wine being stored in them. The sulfur keeps the oxygen out which keeps out things like bacteria and mold.

The guide pulled us into the room stacked with barrels which all contained wine being oak aged and pointed out how the walls were filled with small rocks in place of standard insulation…they did this to keep the room cooler than the rest of the warehouse. He gave us tastings of the various oak aged wines before the tour ended and then we found ourselves in the small shop looking for something to buy.

We ended up buying a case of wine…the quality paired with the price placed Club Tapiz as one of our top favorites in Mendoza.

After our tour, we stopped in the little town to pick up some ice cream from the local Heladaria (ice cream shop) and placed a to go order at a small neighborhood restaurant. We took all our food back to our hotel where we ate, drank and chilled out for the rest of the evening.