Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Cuyo,
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Greetings from Mendoza, Argentina - the heart of Argentina's wine country.  There are over 1000 bodegas (wineries) around Mendoza with a combined annual production of over a Billion liters.  The majority of the wine produced is consumed locally - so I figured I would consume some locally as well!

A group of us rented bicycles, a map, and took to spend a couple days visiting bodegas - we toured large scale operations and mom-and-pop vineyards, sampled some exceptional premium wines as well as some not-so-premium hooch .

Our first bodega was a small vineyard with about 30 acres, a couple fermentation tanks and a small cellar owned by a French couple who decided to retire in Mendoza on a vineyard.  He was an electrical engineer and she a teacher and they had never made wine before.  Five years into it, they are doing pretty well - they hired a wine maker for the first four years and this year they made their first batch of wine on their own .     

This got me curious - so I started shopping around.  I found a 12-acre vineyard  with a house, care taker's house, vineyard, and winery for US$188k.  The care taker's salary is $100US per month - plus he gets 15% of the grapes.  One acre will produce about 8 barrels, or 2,000 liters of wine.  My personal target production is 365 bottles, so I only need a quarter acre - I think the whole wine business is quite doable!

The second bodega was an equally small operation, but had been in the family for 120 years.  One of the nephews gave us the tour and he was proud of their process and wines.  The more asked questions and complimented him on the wines, the more he kept pouring!  "Oh - try this year... it was especially wet and compare it to this year, which was normal."

 "Can we compare a bottle that was aged a long time in oak vs. a bottle that was aged a medium amount of time in oak?" I asked (trying to get him to open the good stuff).  

 "Well - I don't have a bottle of our private reserve open..." (I put on a look of disappointment) "...hold on... let me get a 2002."

Our third winery was Alta-Vista, which is a massive operation.  At the end of the tour, they gave us samples of three of their basic wines, but the tour guide told us we could try the grand reserve for $10AR ($3.50US) a flight or their ultra-premium bottle for double that price.

"Since it's double the price - does that mean we get twice as much?" I asked.

"No - it's twice as good... but I'll make sure you get a good pour."  she said with a wink. 

So I tried the good stuff - and it was exceptional.  

The scenery was stunning.  We road (swerved) our bikes down gravel roads along vineyards with the snow-capped Andes towering in the background.  And the houses are amazing here - from French style chateaus to ultra modern homes that could be in architecture magazines.  Mendoza is gorgeous.

At the end of the trip, we returned our bikes and the owner of the bike shop gave each of us a bottle of wine he made in his little winery - which was actually pretty good.  I was impressed!

Next up - touching the top of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. 




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