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

Posts tagged “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 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.

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…

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.

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.