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

Posts tagged “Giff and Brandey

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 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 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.