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

Valle de Uco

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 395-396 of 400: Horseback Riding and Dinner at O’Fournier – Argentina

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As if the backdrop of the Andes Mountains sitting against a gorgeous vineyard in Argentina isn’t enough to fall in-love with the area…they brought in the horses. We spent the day harvesting grapes at a different vineyard and experienced really being a part of the process before heading back to O’Fournier where we were invited back for dinner and a sleep-over. But first, Jose, the owner had horses waiting at the winery! They put cowboy hats on our heads and helped us up onto a horse. I have to admit…I am not so comfortable around horses, they are so massive and what if they take off galloping into the horizon? Or kick me off? These particular horses were older and very calm. They walked us gently around vines and we really got to see the whole property as the sun was setting behind us…Argentina was definitely romancing us.

After about an hour of horseback riding, Jose was waiting for us and walked us into the restaurant which was closed to the general public but open only for us and one other traveler who was a wine merchant. Jose himself had to leave to attend a work event but sat us down at a table lined with white linen and of course filled our wine glasses with estate wine. The food was both beautifully presented as well as delicious. We enjoyed talking to the wine merchant about how he runs his business of exporting wine from Argentina back to Europe. We wondered if Jose strategically set up this dinner meeting to give us an opportunity to ask questions about the wine business. We asked things like; What is the cost of exporting? How does that impact the final price of the bottle to both the end-user merchant and the customer who drinks it? How long does it take to bring wine on the slow boat from Argentina? and what government restrictions were in place from a tax stand-point?

After the horses, the food and the wine with great dinner conversation…we drove the short distance to the small condo amongst the vines. Jose thought it was important for us to get a feel for the property not only in the evening but specifically at sun-rise. We settled into bed and made sure our alarm was set for about 6:30AM.

We tried to get some sleep but visions of vineyards danced in our heads…

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 386-387 of 400: Wine Tour and Tasting at Clos de los Siete – Valle de Uco, Argentina

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Over the past couple days we spent a lot of time lounging around on the B&B property…making food, catching up on our blogging and staring out at the vines,  There was also the cutest little puppy who decided to make himself at home in our room.

Of course, we also spent time drinking wine but also visited Michel Rolland’s property.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Michel…he is one of the best known names in the wine industry, a world-renowned wine influence.  He owns vineyard properties in many places including France (which is where he’s from), Argentina, South Africa and Spain.  He has a specific style and through his consultation, helps 100s of clients achieve oak influenced and fruit-heavy wines.  Just by putting his name on a bottle of wine…will help sell it.

In Argentina, we saw his vineyard, Clos de los Siete was nearby right in Uco Valley so drove over without an appointment in hopes to taste a few of his wines.  Vineyards always seem to have the most beautiful landscapes and this one was no different…with about 2100 acres of planted vines sitting on the foothills of the Andes mountains…it was gorgeous.  We parked and were greeted by a women who agreed to give us a tour of two of the five wineries that were on the property.  Basically Michel got together with 6 of his friends and they each divided the vines to make five wineries.  Each owner runs their own winery and wine making but all contribute some of their fruit to put into one bottle of wine called, Clos de los Siete.

The property was so large that we needed to drive through the dirt roads between vines to get to the two wineries we were touring.  The tour guide jumped in our backseat and directed us to the first stop, Cuvelier Los Andes.  The wineries themselves here in Mendoza are so dramatic in both size and technology with amazing architecture.  She gave us a quick walk through pointing out the fermenting tanks, and barrel rooms before getting us over to our second winery, Diamandes

The Diamandes uses a gravity system (most of winery is underground) and technology to keep things like temperature control efficient.  Even though the soil looks rocky/sandy, the altitude is high and the weather is extreme…this family found their “diamond” in the rough because the wine region of the Valley de Uco produces some of the best wine in Argentina (in our opinion anyway).   The tour guide talked through the architecture (same as the O’Fournier building) as well as the specific process followed from picking grapes to fermenting.

After our tour, we drove back to the guest building where we picked out a couple of wines to purchase, one being the wine made from all properties (Clos de los Siete) and one of Michel Rolland’s nice (and expensive) bottles for our wine cellar.  We drove back to our place to find some dinner and get things packed up since we are leaving for a different part of Mendoza tomorrow.

Day 385 of 400: Wine Tasting Lunch at Andeluna in Valle de Uco – Argentina

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Trying to speak in another language is already challenging enough but when you need something very specific like jumper cables because the headlights on the car were left on all night…it brings a whole new element to the conversation!

After hand gestures, body gestures, pointing and random Spanglish…we finally got our point across to the staff at our B&B that our car battery was dead and needed a jump. The owner sent someone over to our car and got us up and running. The car trouble made our day run very late but eventually we got to Andeluna Cellars.

The Andeluna property was vast and beautiful with vines spread in every direction. We waited only a few minutes before our tour of the vineyard began. The guide walked us through the facility, showing us the room full of steel tanks used to ferment their wine as well as their room of oak barrels. We asked questions and took pictures before she led us back out to the main area for a taste of their final product.

Instead of the standard tasting, we decided to purchase their multi-course lunch which came with a different glass of wine per course. We sat outside on the patio with a clear view of the vines on one side and the big open kitchen on the other. Does it get any better than this?

The menu consisted of 6 courses and each one was served with a different house made-bread. We started with a fresh salad, followed by trout, then pasta, then beef, a pallet cleanser and finally strawberry frozen yogurt with mint. We thoroughly enjoyed each course, glass of wine and atmosphere…our little two-top table was packed with food and glasses and we left feeling very satisfied. We purchased some of their wine of course and then went back to our place for the evening.

For dinner, we made a salad from the farmers market veggies we had picked up and some bruschcetta. It was nice to lounge around and relax in the vines of our B&B. We did after all have a very busy day eating and drinking…