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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mendoza the Return Visit: Day 2

On our second day in Mendoza started off at our favorite bodega from our trip two years ago, Domaine St. Diego (mlauritamza@hotmail.com (0261)155395148, Laura speaks English and Spanish). On this trip we reconnected with the same tour guide, Angel Mendoza's daughter, Laura, who was just as pleasant as the last time we saw her.  It was a beautiful and serene place to be first thing in the morning. I love the number of olive trees they have on the property, even though it reduces the number of vines they can plant.  This bodega is family owned and operated, and they go to great lengths to use the small amount of land that they have in a number of very interesting ways.

As mentioned before, the olive trees are interspersed between the vines, or more accurately, the vines were planted among the trees.  The grapes that grow directly below the trees don't get enough sunlight to grow to use for the wines they were originally intended for, so they use these grapes to make other wines.  When we visited before, they made a dessert wine called Oportuno that was delicious.  They have discontinued that wine and started making an outstanding sparkling rosé called Elea, after their first granddaughter.

They also grow certain vines at two different heights, to allow double the grapes to be planted in the same amount of space.  They manipulate the vines so that some grow taller than others and then maintain them at different heights.  The root structures for these types of plants are relatively deep, also making them a good match for the shallow-rooted olive trees.  Very cool.

The last piece of horticultural knowledge that I will share from this visit is the way that the winery creates new vines.  So, the plants that they currently use to make wine are somewhere in the range of 70 - 80 years old.  I don't remember the exact numbers, but somewhere around this range, the plants start to get tired and produce less quality fruit.  If they continue to naturally let the plant go, it will eventually die - literally from old age.  Instead, they naturally clone a new plant.  At the end of the season, when they prune all of the plants, the older, more tired vines are left with an off-shoot.
Grape vine "cloning"
This longer branch continues to grow, and then is guided down into the ground.  The plant will naturally grow down, then turn up toward the surface again and re-emerge as a new, sapling vine.  This vine (which is still attached to the mother plant by an "umbilical" cord) eventually grows it's own root structure and is able to live on it's own as an independent plant.  The branch is then cut, the new plant relocated - but not before the new plant feeds nutrients and energy back into the mother plant, rejuvenating it's fruit production for another period of years.  This will allow the plants to produce fruit from 30-40 years longer than usual, and has the added benefit of keeping the same DNA in all of the grapes.  Amazing!

 Domaine St. Diego has a beautiful look-out point that is great for photos, and is the weekend meeting point for the entire wine-making family.  What a great tradition to have, drink the wine you all helped to make while sitting atop a hill on your family's beautiful land.

The last stopping point on our tour was the olive centrifuge, which is the new technology for the olive press.  More simply, we stopped to watch them make olive oil.  They use this machine to create their own olive oil, which is outstanding on it's own or in the grapefruit and rosemary infused variety, and to generate profit by pressing other farm's harvest of olives.

After this we enjoyed the tasting of Pura Sangre, Paradigma and the sparkling Elea.  We also tasted, and proceeded to purchase, their olive oil, both versions, and got the contact information to purchase wine for delivery in Buenos Aires.  This is the last point to make about this winery, they only sell from the winery - no distributers or wholesalers, so if you want it, you buy from them.  Not a bad deal considering that all of their wines are a mere AR$60.

The next bodega on our tour was Carinae, a winery started by a French couple that used the stars as their theme.  Carinae is the name of the constellation that appears directly above the vineyard during harvest time - making it an appropriate name for the star-loving wine-enthusiast.  The Carinae wines are made from vines planted in Maipu, the place that we visited, but also in Salta (to make Torrontés) and Lujan de Cuyo (an area a few hours outside of Mendoza city).  Their most prized wine is called Prestige, which is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels, and is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Jon admiring the aging process
Their wines were good, though my personal favoriet was a Malbec Rosé.  I particularly like the foils surrounding the corks of these wines, they are classy, colorful and contain their namesake constellation.  

We spent another amazing, large lunch at Ruca Malen, another purposeful repeat from our last trip.  It was delicious, and pared with great wines - most notably the Yauquen Bonarda, a varietal that I have never heard of before this trip.  Keep your eyes open for Bonarda, it is very good, and rumored to be the next big thing after Argentine Malbec.

We ended our day at the Alta Vista winery, a beautiful building and grounds that is a photographer's dream.  Unfortunately for me, this was the fourth winery of the day, so my photos were not as impressive as they probably could have been (at least that's my excuse).  You be the judge. 

And here is the only photo I took of our guide, Javier.  The best wine guide in Mendoza!

To finish off the day, we returned to the hotel for some cards and relaxing before dinner.  This night, we made reservations at Azafran, the same restaurant we visited back in 2010 and still an outstanding choice for dinner. We were sad to learn that Philip, the gentleman that gave us the stargazing tour back in 2010 is no longer offering these tours.  And I was confounded to learn that he was actually one of two star-loving, wine-making Philips in the small town of Mendoza (the other being one of the owners of Carinae, who I was CERTAIN was the same Philip as before... who knew??).

Argentina is great about allowing carry-on wine on the plane, so we were able to purchase a few bottles to bring home with us.  I am obviously quite pleased with our purchases - and it was a great, fun weekend.

No doubt, we were anxious to get back to this little princess, who is now saying "night-night", "bye-bye", "bath-bath" and some singular words like "stop", "hi", "meh" (for milk) and most heart-warmingly "ma-ma" and "da-da" to refer to Jon and I.  She's so cute it's painful!

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