Thursday, 6 November 2008

South America, October 2008 - Part One, Argentina

Part One: Argentina

As with every year, the 2008 H&H Bancroft staff trip to South American is the highlight of the year for the lucky few who go! This year's visit was attended from H&H Bancroft by Neb Gusic and Mike Unsworth and from Gaucho, Phil Crozier (Head Wine Buyer) Miss Kinga Wilk (Sommelier), & Miss Frederica Russo (Sommelier).

We were rewarded with clear blue skies and warm sunshine in Buenos Aires. With around 13 million people living here, it is the third biggest conurbation in Latin America. Buenos Aires in English means “Good Air” which considering it contains the biggest boulevards in the world, full or cars and 4 out of five of us travelling smoked it was a little bit of a contradiction….! We had endured 16 hours in a jumbo jet from Heathrow via St Paulo to get here but what an exciting and colourful city greeted us.

We were met at the airport and taken to the hotel, where everyone agreed they were overtired to sleep, so after a quick freshen up, met in the lobby and walked around admiring the huge variety in architecture in this vast and vibrant city with its checkered history, whilst enjoying a cool beer or two.

Evening met by Bosca representative Muriel Estrada, and taken for drinks and dinner, where, as we did in fact at lunchtime, gorged on various cuts of beef, surely Argentineans' best export after wine!

The following morning woke to the warmth and yet delicate aromas of carbon monoxide and Neb's Marlboro. After breakfast, headed to the airport ready for Mendoza and our first glimpse of the Andes…

Mendoza airport, with some touristy planting of vines in the car park (probably Concha Y Toro's!), and in the background the snowy peaks of the Andes. Taken to our hotel, which was very comfortable, apartment style with separate sofa room, desks, and more important a very soft bed!

An enjoyable nice walk around Mendoza, there is certainly some money around with plenty of shops.

In the evening met up with Alberto Arizu, and enjoyed a wonderful evening with good food good wine and good conversation.

In the morning met up with Alberto's brother and Vineyard manager Gustavo, who expertly gave us the insight into techniques of pruning, irrigation and shown their various vineyards including Viña Paraiso, a 250 hectare vineyard, which included 35 hectares all for experimental work, it is encouraging to see that this family is truly committed to producing some of the finest wines in Argentina, by hard work, investment and passion.

We then headed off to Las Comportas, where the Finca Los Nobles vineyard is situated and also Bosca's top wines are source. We were now at 1100 metres and the vines had the amazing backdrop of the mountains. Only hunger and thirst could pull us away from the dramatic scenery, onwards to the winery and a well deserved lunch. The winery way very attractive with almost colonial feel and the attention to detail in the vineyards is replicated here. Exhaustive tasting of the entire range including all of our wines we ship, new vintages and a tanks sample of their Torrentes, which was good, an excellent singe vineyard Malbec, and the truly jaw-dropping ICONO.

Onwards to the Arizu family's other estate, Viña Alicia, here the wine production is minute and is focused on boutique wines including an enormous Nebbiolo which is the only instance found in Argentina. This is where the parents, Alberto Senior and Alicia, concentrate their efforts these days, along with their youngest son Rodrigo, who got married a couple of days before we arrived.

Returned to the hotel for a freshen up, then on to the Cavas Wine Lodge with Alberto and Gustavo for dinner. The sunset over the Andes was breathtaking, and we all were snapping pictures but they never would do it justice…

The next day proved to be far more for the adventurous! We first headed off right into the “pre Andes” and after a short talk on safety and changing in to wet suits got into boats made for six, Neb on a horseand with our hippy guide, hurtled down the rapids of the Mendoza river, covering approximately 12kms in less than 25 minutes, great fun and I really would love to do it again. Then in a battered mini bus headed up to 8500 feet, on a hair raising dirt track, to arrive at a Gaucho farm, this lucky guy had 2000 hectares of land, and after eating a light lunch of homemade empañadas (little meat pasties) and a various nibbles, and certainly a glass or two for Dutch courage, we mounted horses and followed a rustic path through the rough pastures, admiring the view and the sheer peace, tranquillity and space.

Early evening goodbyes to our hosts and after dinner to Kinga, Frederica and Phil who were heading off for other visits, we all had enjoyed the education and experiences in Argentina and shared in our sadness that the following day we would be leaving.

That concluded the Argentinian leg of our trip. Next stop Chile...

Mike Unsworth