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

Posts tagged “Argentina

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 383 of 400: Loving the wine and food of Valle de Uco, Mendoza – Argentina

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We were on the road by 11AM and drove further out than yesterday to find some wineries a little off the beaten path. We still didn’t have pre-set appointments so were hoping to slide our way into the wineries to taste. I guess we are kind of boycotting the system…let’s see if it works.

Following our wine map, we got to the first winery, Altus and there were no cars and no people in sight…it was closed. Disappointed, we continued on the gravel road…the map showed another winery nearby so we tried our luck in hopes that our drive all the way out here would pay off.

We arrived at Tupungato Winelands which had a security guard at the entrance. He agreed to let us in and gave us a map of the property. The road was completely gravel and certainly didn’t seem like an entrance to a vineyard. We drove for quite a while and took out our video camera to record the ride. It was almost comical how long we were on this random road (you couldn’t really even call it a road) driving slow because we didn’t want to pop a tire on our crappy little car with these sharp rocks. There were no signs and no people…it was weird. Finally we saw a tractor and the guy saw we were trying to figure out where the heck we were, he smiled and waved us to follow him. Once we drove over a small hill, he pointed to the parking lot and then the walking path. We smiled, waved thanks, and got the car parked.

We walked on the little path and after a few steps saw a small outdoor restaurant and were greeted by the waitress. She explained the property was brand new and still being built…in fact they didn’t even have vines planted yet! All they had so far was a golf course and restaurant and were building homes with vineyards and a hotel. We felt like we wasted so much time…driving so far out and then finding out there was nothing to do there. We thanked her and quickly got back in the car to get off the huge property.

We decided to head for one of the large wineries…the clock was ticking and we wanted to get to a winery for lunch ASAP. We drove around lost for about an hour, but then found an old winery so pulled into their driveway…but they were closed too! Feeling very frustrated with our day so far, we found the restaurant we were looking for, Atamisque. We heard this place has great food and wine (they also farm their own trout). We pulled up to the security guard and admitted we didn’t have an appointment. The guard refused to let us in…the restaurant was full. We pleaded with him twice and he would not budge. All of our driving and getting lost and searching for this place and we couldn’t get in-aghhhhhh.

It was about 3PM and if we didn’t find a place to eat soon, everything would close for the siesta and we would be starving because dinner doesn’t start until 9PM. We figured out where we were quickly on the map and headed straight over to Andeluna Vineyards. This time, when pulling up to the security guard we used a different method, we tried fibbing (ok, it was a small lie). We said we had a reservation and the guard looked on the list, called it in and apologized saying no, they did not have us down. We talked with the women inside and made a reservation for later in the week but for today they were full and would not let us in. We had been trying to go against the reservation system but it wasn’t working and in fact we were wasting a lot of time.

Next door was a sign for a restaurant and we decided at this point we should just see if they would let us in to eat. We drove down the long dirt driveway and I jumped out of the car to run in and see if they would feed us. The restaurant was super cute and quaint, it had a rustic feel and had tables both inside and outside. The guy said he would find a space for us and I waved to Giff to find a parking spot and come on in.

The restaurant was called, Tupungato Divino and was also a lodge. It is right in the middle of the wine trail so this would be a great place to stay…not sure what the pricing is but great location. It’s back in the middle of the vines and the bar has a chalk board hanging behind it loaded with all kinds of local wines.

We were seated at a large wooden table outside right by the outdoor grill/oven. The details in the decor were packed with charm…two old wine barrels held up a big thick piece of wood making a counter space. Another barrel had been carved out and actually made into a chair and there were fresh flowers on the tables. It was a pre-fix menu so we ordered a bottle of wine and shortly after were served the appetizer. It consisted of 5 different bite-sized things (a small salad, a baby tomato stuffed with cheese, a cold soup served with a straw and a couple other things.) The second course for Giff was steak and potatoes and I had salmon with a small salad topped with avocado, sprouts and tomatoes. The food was great, typically in wine regions food is always so fresh and tasty and Mendoza is no different. For dessert, they brought out another plate with 5 bite sized sweets (chocolate, meringue, a pineapple smoothie, strawberry kebab and our favorite…a rosemary infused vanilla ice-cream on a nutty crust).

By the time we finished lunch it was about 5PM so we knew the wine-tasting day was over. We spent so much time driving around getting lost and then trying to get in places without a reservation…lesson learned; when coming out to Mendoza, make wine tasting appointments in advance. On our drive home, we saw a vineyard, Gimenez Riili with its gates open…we figured it would be closed but turned onto the short driveway. As we pulled up, we saw someone locking the doors…we rolled our windows down and asked if it was at all possible to quickly taste. Luckily it was the owner himself and he agreed only for 30 minutes…we took him up on the offer.

He took us around to the warehouse which looked out onto the mountains where he had his wine aging in stacked wine barrels. He had us take a seat and then brought out a couple bottles…he spoke English and we had fun talking with him about making his wine. We explained the type of wine we liked and he offered to open his gran reserve bottle, a 2007 Malbec made from 40 yr. old vines…at first we felt bad he was opening a new bottle at the very end of the day but after tasting it, we were glad he did. It was one of the best wines we have had out here so far. But, also one of the priciest…we decided it was worth spending extra for wine that would probably be much more in the USA. He put together a 6 pack for us as well as a bottle of Syrah which he could only give us one bottle of because he didn’t have many left. He then took us to one of his barrels and told us although it wasn’t ready yet to have a taste of the next syrah…it was so good, and will be amazing by the time he is done with it.

I think we took a little more than 30 minutes but bought plenty of wine and really enjoyed our visit with the wine maker. We were only minutes from our B&B but saw a sign for chocolate and pulled the car over. It was a little family owned cafe. We ordered a homemade lasagna and salad to go and while we waited, looked over their chocolates while chatting with the family. We of course bought a few chocolates and cookies and they threw in a jar of homemade apple marmalade. We thanked the family and got back to the car when a hail storm came out of nowhere. The owner came running out to our car and told us not to drive until the storm passes. The hail was huge, almost the size of golf balls and they crack the windows of cars. He reached through our window and handed us plastic-ware in case we wanted to eat our lasagna while we waited. What a friendly family…

The hail storm left just as quickly as it came. We drove back to our place, ate dinner and watched a movie before bed.

Day 382 of 400: Wine Tasting in Valle de Uco, Mendoza – Argentina

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We woke up to breakfast that had been delivered to our porch (nice touch). We walked out in our PJs and although the view was great, the breakfast was not. Instead of fresh fruit, it was fruit cocktail, overly sweet pink packaged yogurt and plain cheap white bread. We barely ate any of it…the property is beautiful, rooms are spacious and the staff friendly but they really need to make their breakfasts better. Fresh fruit, and some baked bread with homemade jam would be just fine…but the pre-packaged stuff is just a poor way to start the day.

We didn’t waste time, we got ready and were in the car driving towards our first wine tasting experience in this region. It took a little bit of getting lost in random back roads before we figured out which way to get to the bulk of the wineries. Parts of the drive were really beautiful…we were driving between mountains and the thick layer of fog mystified the ambiance.

After driving for an hour or so, we found ourselves in a small town full of people and camp sites. We stopped and took a picture of the huge cross with Jesus on it which was kind of randomly on the road and then saw quite a few people sitting in the yard of a little shack which had a hand-written sign up in Spanish saying they had empanadas. We pulled over and walked up to the shack which had a big wooden window open. Inside was an older women who spoke no English but was baking empanadas in her kitchen. With hand gestures Giff told her we wanted 2 empanadas for 20 pesos which was about $4 USD. We waited only a few minutes and then were handed 2 bags full of empanadas….something was obviously lost in translation…instead of 2 individual…we got 2 dozen! They were filled with meat and we ate some of them on the way to our first winery, what a bargain.

We started seeing vines and knew we were approaching vineyards, our first stop was the Salenstein Vineyard.  We have heard appointments are needed out here to do tastings but we’re hoping that isn’t the case…would they really turn us away?

We parked and walked through the entrance which led us through their art gallery prior to the tasting room. We stopped briefly to look at the art and then found our way to the main lobby area. The place was pretty busy, they had a restaurant to the right and a tasting bar to the left with the wine store and help desk in the middle. We stood in line at the help desk to inquire about the tastings and tours. They asked if we had reservations which we didn’t and informed us they were fully booked! Uh oh…

They said if we wanted to, they could squeeze us at the tasting bar and we could taste the wines but could not have a tour etc. We agreed and they gave us the tasting menu…there were several options to choose from, reserve vs non, red or whites etc. We chose two separate flights so we could taste several but had to wait way too long for someone to actually take our order. We almost got up and left but finally someone came over. She apologized and explained they were short a person so were sharing the extra work-load. After spending way more time there due to lack of service we did like a few of the wines…Reserve Malbec 2010, Primus Pinot Noir 2007 and the Numina which was a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cab, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. We ended up buying a couple blends and two bottles of 100% Tannat which we hadn’t tasted but the price was right as well as some olive oil.

Since we had driven around for so long and Salestein’s service took too long…we really only had time to stop at one more vineyard before they closed. There was a place we were referred to called, La Azul nearby. We walked up and saw they had a cute casual outdoor restaurant but were closing things up…they agreed to give us a tasting though. They were a small boutique winery and took us into their warehouse to show us their wine barrels and had us taste both from the barrel and the final product. They mostly had “young wines” meaning not aged in barrels…which is not really our style so we opted to only taste the barrel aged stuff. As we were tasting a few other people joined us…they were from NY but moved to Buenos Aires for a year for work…awesome! The husbands were working and the wives were soaking in the culture including learning the language…so cool. As we continued to talk we realized we had a friend in common…small world! We ended up buying 3 bottles which were ranked extremely high and were suppose to get better with time, they were a bit pricey but are well-known and didn’t have a tasting fee.

Back in the car, we made our way to the B&B where we took a cat nap before heading to the small town to find dinner. Town was super busy…it was dinner time, everyone eats so late here, 9PM is the earliest. There was an ice-cream shop screaming our names so we walked in agreeing that it made total sense to eat dessert before dinner and while indulging in our ice-cream cones walked into a pizza place…ok, so tonight isn’t exactly our healthiest dinner! We ordered a couple of salads and a pizza and chatted with the owner about his family while we waited. He even brought out his mom and although we didn’t know exactly what he was saying and he didn’t know exactly what we were saying it was still fun or funny trying to communicate.

They packed up our dinner and we took it to go but realized once we were carrying it to the car that there was some kind of parade going on in town. It was the harvest parade..each region picks their own Harvest Queen…there were several cars with young girls dressed up waiving at everyone as they drove by. We have been seeing these signs advertising various women for various towns. Once the Queen is picked, they all come together for the big harvest party in downtown Mendoza for one girl to be crowned amongst all.

The parade was pretty quick and we drove the few minutes back to our place to eat dinner and settle in with some English channels on TV.

Day 381 of 400: Staying on a vineyard in Valle de Uco, Mendoza – Argentina

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After breakfast, we got our things packed into the car and checked out of our B&B in San Rafael. The drive back to the Valle de Uco area was just as flat and boring as it was coming out here, just like Vegas to L.A.

We finally arrived in the area where our next B&B was and were trying to figure out how to find it. We drove back and forth knowing we were in the vicinity but not finding our place until we turned on a small dirt road which led us to the road our B&B was on. We had to drive pretty slowly as the road was made of small rocks and we didn’t want to pop a tire. We saw the sign for our place, Finca La Puebla, Hotel de Campo and pulled in the driveway. The B&B was literally built inside a Malbec vineyard…how cool is that?! We didn’t really see a lobby area but someone came over and greeted us. She was with housekeeping and showed us our room and gave us a key.

The room was very spacious with high ceilings a little mini kitchenette and bathroom as well as a porch with table and chairs. We are staying here for 6 days so were happy to see we could have an area to store groceries. We got our things unpacked and were settling into our room when the owner knocked on our door. She spoke some English and showed us a map of the area, circling places we could eat and pointing out vineyards close by. Valle de Uco is the most prestigious wine region in Mendoza…it is the equivalent in quality wine to the St Emilion area in France or St Helena in California and we are very excited to taste wine here. We had hoped to find cheap good wine in San Rafael but didn’t really…in this area we will definitely find quality but what about price?

For the rest of the day we enjoyed the property…we took pictures of the vines with the backdrop of the Andes mountains, we opened wine and for dinner we cut up tomatoes, cheese meats and bread.

Day 379 of 400: Wine Tasting in San Rafael, Argentina

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Today started with another slow breakfast sitting outside on the patio overlooking the farm, we could really get use to this simple lifestyle.

Today we are going to find a couple of vineyards and taste more San Rafael wine…there must be something good out here! Argentina isn’t so great with their signs…at least not in wine country, we have been spending a lot of time lost, but the good thing is we don’t really have to be anywhere we don’t want to be! By the time we arrived at the first vineyard, they literally just closed for lunch which is quite common here…things shut-down during the day for lunch. We decided to go on to the next one and hopefully stop by this first one on our way home. Since we had no idea how to get to the next vineyard, we pulled over to a little food-stand to ask for directions. Of course, they did not speak a word of English…through my small amount of Spanish and hand gestures…we figured it out.

We finally arrived at the oldest vineyard in San Rafael, Goyenechea. The property was huge and we could see the extra-large vats/oversized barrels used to store the wine outside. We walked in and first noticed how much character the tasting room had…the floor was made of cement and flat pieces of wooden logs. The logs in the floor matched the wooden beams in the ceiling, and the old wooden wine barrels lined the top part of the entire bar. The women working at the winery was just finishing up with her other customer…so we looked around the large tasting room while we waited before she was able to show us the options for tasting.

Some of the tasting came with food and we decided since it was lunch time, to sit at their bar and have a smorgasbord of food while sipping on their vino. They poured us the first wine which we weren’t huge fans of and then started bringing out food…of course empanadas as well as various meats, cheeses, olives, dips and bread. As we nibbled, we sipped on wine…searching for one we liked and chatting amongst ourselves-there were no other guests in the building.

After a leisurely tasting…we bought a couple of bottles which were decent, we liked the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 which was aged in new french oak for 16 months. We were then on our way to the winery that had closed on us prior to this one.

Back at Alfredo Roca, we arrived just as they were closing for the day! I got out of the car and pushed the button at the closed gate…speaking in Spanglish and trying to have them squeeze us in. She opened the gate and I went in to find a different women who spoke English well and agreed to do a quick tasting for us…yeahhh! Giff parked the car and we followed her through the waiting room and into the tasting room which was within their warehouse. After speaking with the women a bit…she realized we really would prefer their reserve line of wines which means they are a little more money but are aged in oak and usually are more complex wines. The other wineries we have been tasting at, have been charging to taste the reserve wines but she gladly opened new bottles for us at no charge. We liked a few of them, but did notice the price points on these bottles were definitely not on the bargain side of things. However, this wine did taste better than some others we’ve had in this area over the last week.

We bought 4 bottles, a chardonnay which we seem to be leaning towards lately (maybe it’s the heat) as well as a blended red table wine. We also bought a Pinot Noir which was very different from other Pino’s we have had in California…in fact, I would say this one is our favorite so far. We added a bottle of their dessert wine before paying our tab. We thanked the women for getting us through the gate after hours and were on our way back to the B&B.

We arrived and had a bit of downtime in the room before sitting outside at the main house for a traditional Swiss fondue dinner. The oner of the B&B is from Switzerland and had advertised classic swiss fondue so we requested it for this evening. She had the table set for us on the porch and we sat dipping our food in the fondue watching the lightning storm. The owner went to the yard, poured salt and stabbed the ground with a knife…she looked at us smiling and said it was traditional in Argentina to do that in hopes of keeping the storm from hitting their crops (frost is very bad for vines). Interesting…

After dinner, we played with the camera, leaving the shutter open for long periods of time to get lighting bolts and fun blurred pictures. The lightning storm went well into the night so we sat on our back porch watching the storm as did our neighbors before bed.