Monday, October 3, 2011

Wine Tour! Wine Tour!

After more than two months in the wine capital of South America, John, his dad and I went on a wine tour. Our friend and wine tour guide, Javier, picked us up at 9am in his French-designed, Brazilian-made tan Citroën and off we drove to Maipu, a wine producing town ten minutes south of Mendoza.

I didn't have any expectations for the day besides seeing some viñedos (vineyards) and bodegas (wineries) and tasting wine. I was mostly looking forward to getting out of the city and doing something different than my daily school-lunch-nap-study-exercise routine.

Our first stop was CarineE vineyards. Named after a southern hemisphere constellation, Carina, this is a small vineyard and winery that produces 75,000 bottles per year and is owned by a French couple who settled here after coming to Argentina for work.  After a short tour of the winery and the history of the vineyard, we tasted five wines. By this time it was about 10:30am, and I quickly learned that I could, and should, only tolerate a few sips of each.
The woman on the far right labels and packs all the bottles by hand at CarinaE.
Our next stop was Domaine St. Diego, another small vineyard and winery producing 35, 000 bottles annually, sold only from the vineyard. When we drove up a gray haired man was waiting at the gate to recycle his damajuana, a huge jug for wine, and get a new one - an errand he and many other locals repeat weekly.

Domaine St. Diego is a small family owned and operated business. The daughter in the family, who is the main tour guide and graphic designer for the bottle labels, gave us a thorough tour of the vineyard and explained how the vines grow, and how they propagate new vines when the older ones become tired.
grapevines and olive trees

acequia - canal that carries water from the mountains throughout the region
A passion for quality wine and sustainable growth is evident throughout the vineyard. At the entrance to the vineyard a few rose bushes are used to signal possible issues with the grapevines - if the rose bushes are suffering, then the grapevines are suffering, too.  Olive trees stand between rows of vines and are used for shade and olive oil.  Lavender plants lure ants away from the vines while also attracting bees for pollination. They use byproducts from the wine (grape seeds, skins and stems) and olive oil (olive seeds and skins) production to make compost that is used throughout the vineyard.  A system of small canals, called acequias, carry water from the mountains that the family uses to irrigate the vineyard. 

About half-way through this tour, somewhere between the olive trees and the acequia, I fell in love with this vineyard and the operation. Everything is clearly cyclical and intentional. When we asked how it was to work with the family, she told us they have a family asado every Sunday at the vineyard.
site of the family asado, or BBQ, held every Sunday
After the tour, we tasted three wines and olive oil. We bought a bottle of Pura Sangre Malbec that I look forward to sharing with John for our one-year anniversary later this month.

At this point we had learned a significant amount about the wine growing and production processes, and we were hungry. Our next stop was the Bodega Ruca Malen, where we were pleasantly surprised with a five course lunch with wine pairing and a stunning view.
view from dining room

For the foodies out there, we were served:
1.  Yellow Andean potatoes with sour cream, lemon zest, ham strands and olive oil paired with a Chardonnay.
2.  Fresh ricotta and sauteed onion rolls with a Malbec and balsamic vinegar sauce paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon.
3.  Traditional lentil stew with country sausages braised in Merlot wine paired with a Merlot.
4.  Beef tenderloin with....who cares, right? It was great. Paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon and then a Malbec.

5.  A Bavarian cream dessert on a biscuit paired with a sparkling Brut made from 75% Pinot Noir + 25% Chardonnay. 

John Sr., Javier, John
Of course we were ready for a nap after lunch, but we had one more stop to make. With a wink, Javier told us the next stop was for his preferred clients, and we drove to the winery of Carmelo Patti. Carmelo was born in Italy and moved to Argentina when he was very young.  His grandfather made wine, and Carmelo continues the tradition.  He buys grapes from a neighbor and produces 15,000 bottles of wine annually.

We went straight to the tasting, which was great, but I was more interested in Carmelo.  With a huge smile he energetically showed us magazine articles and newspaper clippings about his winery and talked about his wine.  It didn't matter that he was speaking in Spanish, and I couldn't understand every word.  Carmelo Patti's enthusiasm is infectious, and I clearly understood that he loves making wine.
notice the magazine and newspaper clippings in plastic covers on the right
The Savages with Carmelo Patti

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