I'm always asked, "what do you think of Napa, or have you been to Napa?" and my response is usually -- "Well I've been to Argentina probably around 35 times but Napa only twice." "But you're in the wine industry", people will usually say, and I respond, "Yes but I've only been on the import side and my specialty is Argentina." In fact the first time I went to Napa was with a bunch of my Argentine friends who happened to be in CA along with me for a Wines of Argentina Tasting many years ago. I'm still pretty close to most of the guys from that trip which was over 10 years ago; we are lifelong friends and I get to see them every time I go back to Argentina for work.
So speaking of going to Argentina and visiting, I just got back from a fantastic trip, and for the first time I didn't have to be the organizer! In another blog I will recount the amazing trip I just took; however, I'd like to reminisce a bit first. Since 2006 I had led Educational Trips for my previous company and what a treat this time to be taken on a trip. Being in the wine and spirits industry, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to travel the world; we get to taste the finest wines, eat amazing food, stay in some of the most beautiful accomodations in the world, immerse ourselves in the culture and surround ourselves by fantastic people. Sounds like a dream come true right, well I can actually say this part of working in the "industry" is amazing, and I will never say otherwise.
As I got ready for this particular trip, I started thinking about the first time I took a group of people down to Argentina. It's a lot of organizing that goes into making these trips seamless and sometimes the country doesn't quite cooperate! And boy do I have stories! In future blogs I will tell you about some of the funny things that happened along the way to Argentine, what can and did go wrong and how to make it work when it seems like all the elements are against you. These trips are about the folks attending and how great an experience you can create for them. It's the responsibility of the organizers to make sure of that so that afterwards the attendees have fallen in love with the wineries, the country and of course your company. It takes a combination of the right people, organizing their travel to and from, and working with the wineries to create the right experience.s It's all a complex coordinated effort that when done right will yield a "trip of a lifetime." Argentina is a long ways away but trust me, but it's totally worth the hours to get there. The folks at the wineries truly are some of the most amazing people I've had the pleasure of working with and as I said in the beginning, many are lifelong friends, as are some of the folks I've hosted on these trips.
Now for the first trip I organized, I remember meeting the group at the airport and we all flew together to Buenos Aires. When we got there we stayed at a lovely hotel by Puerto Madero and were immediately taken to lunch for what would be the first of many steaks to come. We sat outside at Cabana las Lilas and ate like we had never had meat before and drank wine like it was the water of life! Hosted by Michel Torino (sorry folks it was called that then, today it's referred to as El Esteco), we ate and enjoyed the city even though most of us had little sleep -- which was a theme to come since Argentines eat late, play later and sleep little. The next day we were off to the north to Cafayate on what seemed like a journey of planes, trains and automobiles, but boy was it worth it once we got there. But first you had to get there. A plane to Salta (2 hours ish) followed by a 3 hour drive. We got our luggage and all piled into little red van with our luggage strapped to the roof. If you've ever seen Little Miss Sunshine the movie, then you will know why we referred to the van as the Sunshine Van. Our driver spoke no English and chewed coca leaves throughout the entire journey and well you can imagine our thoughts! We were all so happy we didn't care if the luggage fell off the roof, or if our driver was happy on coca leaves, we were in Argentina on our way to Michel Torino. The first part of the journey was through the lush tobacco and soy fields of Salta province and then a stop at the last rest stop before we entered into the Quebrada de las Conchas. Our stop was at a place called Posta de las Cabras, which was a goat farm in the middle of nowhere but oh my, the food was amazing. We had homemade goat cheeses displayed on a simple platter but so beautifully displayed we all couldn't stop taking pictures. And of course to quench our thirst were ample glasses of Cuma Organic wines. Sated, we left and started into the most magnificent desert canyon for the next hour and a half. A few stops for sightseeing, including one called the amphitheater which had perfect acoustics. Our host asked if anyone sang and then we were treated to some opera from one of our guests. Back into the Sunshine Van and off to the winery. Desert gave way to once again lush green valley and now we were in Cafayate home to the Michel Torino Winery with it's own hotel called Patios de Cafayate, a spanish colonial structure surrounded by vineyards and mountains that was truly paradise. Food, wine, food wine, vineyards, karaoke in the middle of no where, Fernet and Coca Cola, more food, more wine, well you get the picture....
Cabana las Lilas
Michel Torino Vineyards
The Quebrada de las Conchas
The sunshine van!
Patios de Cafayate
Empanadas from Salta -- the best?
The Picada at Posta de Las Cabras
This was just part one of the trip, next we got back on the Sunshine Van and backtracked to the airport. It's not easy traveling around Argentina, there are not a lot of direct flights to and from cities so you had to always go back to Buenos Aires and take another flight. 3 hours drive, 2 hours in a plane to Buenos Aires, hope for making the connection to Mendoza, back on a flight, 2 more hours in the air and finally you land in Mendoza ahhh....! Like when you land in Vegas, the first thing you see are slot machines at the airport, when you land in Mendoza, the first thing you see are vineyards at the airport. Our next stop was a magnificent hotel called the Park Hyatt, a stunning mansion in the Spanish colonial style with a modern hotel built up into it. Our hosts now was the Trapiche winery. Where as Michel Torino is in as remote a place as you can think of, Trapiche is in the heart of wine country, Mendoza, where almost 80% of Argentina's wine is produced. More amazing wine, vineyards with the spectacular snow-capped Andes as the backdrop and more Argentine barbeque -- asado.
Preparing the asado
Empanadas in the clay oven (the "horno"
Daniel Pi, Chief Winemaker for Trapiche
The hospitality was as amazing as the wines, we ate, drank, and had fun together all the while falling more in love with Argentina and our hosts. We acclimated to the late nights and little sleep. We enjoyed our day at an estancia up in Tupungato at the foothills of the Andes, called Las Pircas where we rode horses, ate more empanadas and asado drank lots of Trapiche wines and absorbed more of the Argentine/Mendocino culture. We had a fantastic day in the vineyards and were educated by the winemakers including the amazingly talented chief winemaker Daniel Pi!
One of the most fun memories was our Karaoke night in Mendoza. Our host went out of his way to find us another karaoke bar so that one of our guests could sing again. He found us the one place he knew of and in we went. Full of locals, they seated us by the bathroom the only table they had. Our guest filled out the sign up sheet and of course she was last. You could see the eyes roll as the "gringo" got up to the microphone, but once she opened her mouth everyone went silent. She finished and there was a standing ovation and chants of "otra" one more. It was awesome, she sang, we drank, she sang more, we drank more and had a blast together.
It was time to have our last meal before we started our journey home. Lunch was one last steakhouse where we made sure we had enough steak and red wine to keep us full until we got on our flight. This would be the first of many more trips and memories for me in Argentina. I am so lucky, truly I know this and have never take it for granted. I have fallen in love with the country and its people. As I said at the start I am friends with many I made back in 2006 on that first trip. In fact with my new client and host of this most current trip, Vino del Sol, I saw how small the wine world in Mendoza really is. Many of my friends are friends with their winemakers so it's all come full circle for me. More stories and memories to come in future blogs; Argentina wine country is a integral part of my life and who I am in the wine world so stay tuned for more to come!