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

Mendoza

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 393 of 400: Night in Mendoza – Argentina

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Well…there are only three pictures to look at in this blog and really…there is not much to say about our day. We decided to have a completely LAZY stay inside and relax day. Traveling is amazing and this trip has been a once in a lifetime experience that we wouldn’t trade in for anything BUT…living out of a suitcase and feeling like we have to be out and about all the time to see all the new sights, can be exhausting (not that we’re complaining).

SO…today, we ordered room service, watched movies, drank wine, blogged and just had a homebody day!


Day 392 of 400: Andes Mountains to Mendoza – Argentina

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It is really something to be in the middle of the Andes Mountains wandering around by ourselves! We packed up our car, thanked our host and drove off into the gorgeous landscape. He gave us directions on which way to get back to Mendoza…we were taking the scenic route which was serene but also a bit uneasy. The raods were not paved and we were driving a crappy rental-if we pop a tire, will anyone ever find us?

Mountains were in every direction and then we were in a tiny car amongst the gravel between them, we had no idea whether or not we were going in the right direction. There were random old wooden posts in the ground once in a while with the name of a city and an arrow but these weren’t exactly clear highway signs by any stretch of the imagination. Up and down and around we went, getting out of the car to take pictures and gaze out into the wilderness. We did come across some random llamas who were grazing on the dry grasses and stood perfectly still for their picture to be taken. And at one point a peculiar fog came rolling in getting thicker and thicker which made for surreal scenery. We were literally standing in the clouds in the middle of the Andes by ourselves-priceless.

We did see one other car drive up to a looking point we were close to, so we had him take our picture…the immediate mountains were brown and dry but way in the distance was the snowy peak of what was probably Mt Aconcagua.

As we continued driving over the rocky roads we realized we were at least going down the mountain range which was the direction we needed to be going in…although there were no other cars behind us, we did see a couple going the opposite way so were thinking we must be headed towards whichever town they were coming from.

After a few hours, we made our way back to reality…where there were paved streets and many people…we were in the city of Mendoza. Prior to the Andes, we had stayed and driven around the countryside/vines of Mendoza but now we will be staying in the actual city for a few nights.

After some circling around, we finally found our small hotel amongst the one way streets and got ourselves checked in. It was nice to have a real bathroom with enough running water to enjoy a long shower and an actual mini fridge to keep things cool instead of a stream of water. We walked across the street since it was dinner time to find some food and noticed many stores were closed. We found an Italian place which had a fire burning oven so ordered a pizza and salad to go.

We window shopped a bit while our food was cooking and then made our way back to the hotel where we settled into our comfies with dinner and a movie.


Day 389 of 400: Ruca Malen Tasting Lunch and the MegaDegustacion in Mendoza – Argentina

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Last night we arrived at our new hotel in Lujan De Cuyo, La Villa Mansa (http://www.villamansa.com/home.html). The area is well-known for its wine and our place was minutes from the village. We were having a lot of fun exploring all of the different wineries in Mendoza and in particular enjoyed the long lunches paired with tastings. That seemed to be a specialty of the area…most of the big wineries had a multi-course lunch by reservation to pair each of their wines. Twist my arm…I have to eat 4 courses of amazing food while gazing out at the countryside and sipping Malbec!

We heard Ruca Malen (http://www.bodegarucamalen.com/) had a good lunch so we made a reservation for today to tour their winery which was followed by lunch on the property overlooking their vines.

We arrived a little late and the tour had already started but they let us sneak in and join the rest. The tour was pretty quick b/c the warehouse was not so big and unfortunately, we were disappointed with it after some of the other in-depth experiences we have had in the area. They basically just walked us around to look at the tanks and barrels and talked briefly about their equipment…nothing special.

For lunch, we joined the other 25 people on the lawn and sat at a table set with many wine glasses and a menu of what we would be eating. Lunch was good as all these lunches are multi-course and farm-fresh food but we would have to place this one at the bottom of our list in comparison to its competition. We had much better food, wine and educational tours at other places. Nothing was bad per se just not memorable.

After our long luncheon, we went back to our hotel and relaxed a bit while checking out the property. When we arrived last night it was dark, so today got to check out the hotel…which was very nice with a restaurant, pool, wine cellar and rooms with free internet.

The hotel gave us a map and we chatted about various wineries and events. Tonight in downtown Mendoza was a wine festival or as they would say a Mega Degustacion which consisted of various vendors selling hand-made goods and then a whole section of local wineries giving tastings of their wines. Basically you buy drinking tickets which includes a wine glass and then you go around and pick which wines to taste until the tickets are gone. We looked for wineries we hadn’t been to yet and enjoyed tasting amongst the crowd of people while chatting with the actual wine makers. We also ate a late night dinner as we people watched…everyone seemed to be enjoying the music and booze.

We stayed out until early morning and then got back to our hotel after a long day.


Day 384 of 400: Wine Tasting Lunch at O.Fournier in La Consulta – Mendoza, Argentina

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There is a pattern here, sleeping in, eating a lot of food and tasting a lot of wine seems to be the theme in Mendoza…love this life! So, today we are going to try to get into O’Fournier¬†and no we don’t have reservations but we are going to hope for the best.

According to the map, it was really not so far from the little town of La Consulta where we were staying but of course this area is not the best with directions…and there is definitely a lack of signs. It can definitely be challenging to know which street to turn left on when the streets aren’t marked and in every direction is farmland and vines!

We finally found the entrance to the O’Fournier winery and stopped at the security guard to see if he would let us in…from what we heard this is a super modern winery with amazing multi-courses lunches. The guard radioed in and then told us he could let us in for a tasting, but we could not sit for lunch as the restaurant was full (we’ll see about that). We thanked him, drove along the gravel road as we admired the vines and found the parking lot.

We walked up the ramp towards the UFO looking building, there was a tour in progress and the “guide” told us to join. The tour was in Spanish but he also spoke English so would talk to the crowd and then English to us and one other couple who had walked up at the same time we did. He pointed out the science lab which was behind glass windows where all sorts of test tubes and experimental type containers were in view. The guide explained it was the room where testing is done on different varietals and the room is all glass so the scientists can seek inspiration from the surrounding mountains and vines.

Across from the science lab was another room where the experiments are actually tested in small tanks before it would be released in large batches. He pointed to the ground at the large doors…those were the openings to the large fermentation tanks underground…in fact 70% of the winery is underground. Since wine needs to be aged and kept in a temperature controlled environment, why not build most of the winery underground so the temperature is naturally cooler? Very efficient…and very smart.

He took us inside underground and first showed us the giant stainless steel tanks which were a different shape than a typical steel tank at other wineries, he told us these tanks were actually the first of their kind in both North and South America and by the way they had touch screen computer controls. He opened the big doors to the room holding the large wooden vats, the room itself was also temperature controlled and humidity controlled which keeps the wood in good condition.

Walking through this place was like the kids walking through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for the first time…everything was advanced technology, new and impressive architecture. We walked over the grated platforms into a huge room where we were staring at 1000s of wine barrels. The room was huge and open but there were no solid beams holding the ceiling up, the style was known as honeycomb architecture.

The portion of the building that is above ground is held up by 4 beams and each of those beams is made of stainless steal which also holds wine!! This building is amazing… We continued walking through it until we reached a room which he said was specifically for his investors, it had space to hold wine for each owner and a large table in the middle of the room. We listened in as he talked about investors and asked questions. The guide was actually Jose, the owner!!! He talked about how he was looking for investors to purchase various lots of vines right next to his own…he sparked our interest.

The tour ended in the beautiful dining room which was bright with natural light and tall windows overlooking the property. We explained that we would love to sit and eat one of the multi-course meals with wine pairings but did not have a reservation. He squeezed us in with the other English couple and we were immediately given our menus and poured O’Fournier wine. There were 6 courses, small quantities of deliciously prepared local food. Each course was fun to look at and talk about, as much as it was to eat and we had fun chatting with the other couple who owned a wine shop in Napa.

Jose Manuel Ortega Gil Fournier was the owner and founder of O’Fournier along with his wife, Nadia (the chef). He was walking around to the various tables after the tour in the small restaurant pouring wine and chatting with his guests. We started asking questions about the investors he had talked about and he explained there was a project they are working on which would be open to the public soon…but was not yet. He talked about how these investors would purchase an amount of land, say 3 acres of vines and these vines would be planted from the vines in their nursery and taken care of as if they belonged to O’Fournier. Not only is the area and soil the best in Mendoza, but the vines would be cared for by O’Fournier staff using top of the line equipment and harvested along with the other grapes through the sorting process. The investors would of course be wanted to assist with the harvest in order to make the wine as they see fit using O’Fournier labs, barrels and winery for aging. In addition, the investors would be able to use the discounts offered to the winery for bottles, labels and corks.

As we ate lunch and drank wine we day-dreamed about becoming a vineyard owner…this project sounded like an amazing opportunity. We finished lunch, thanked Jose for his time and the tour before leaving him our contact info to send us additional info about the project.

We spent most of the day at O’Fournier and then decided to drive the short distance back to our B&B since it was so peaceful at the property hidden amongst the vines. We opened a bottle of wine from the small vineyard of La Azul, walked around taking pictures and played with the little puppy who lived on the property…we even let him in our room and made a little place for him to sleep for the night. He was adorable! After much wine and relaxation, we watched a movie and fell asleep.