If the young god Baachus painted by Caravaggio were to come alive, he would leave behind the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, and just as he is, toga clad and with vine leaves encircling his head, he would catch the first flight to Mendoza to get to know the Uco Valley. How could he choose a destination other than the land of Malbec wine, where each day eating and drinking well is the rallying cry?
Who else than the god of wine could share the magnificent banquet offered at Mallmann’ Siete Fuegos or taste Michele Rolland’s latest creation?
Without a doubt, this relevant character of Greek Mythology would be a frequent visitor of this enclave situated 90 km to the south of Mendoza city where enologists are more famous than football players and you find winery buildings instead of castles, wine cellars instead of art galleries and prestigious wines instead of works of art.
At Uco Valley, the height record is not held by a skyscraper, but by the always white summits of the Cordón del Plata range and the sea of vineyards planted more than 1.200 meters above sea level. The scenery is perfect: the mountain range is magnificent backdrop for slender poplars that are quite spectacular in the fall and for endless hectares covered by apple, pear and cherry trees watered by melt-waters streams. Uco, where there are 300 sunny days a year and the cold nights invite to curl up in front of the fire, is the birthplace of much of the Argentine wine which conquers followers throughout the world.
At the beginning, there were cows...
There was a time in which nobody thought about vineyards in this valley ruled by the Tunuyán, San Carlos, and Tupungato districts. At the beginning of the 1900s, just one man owner 30,000 hectares of this sandy land; and winemaking was not his business. Instead, Mendoza-born Fabián Correa raised more than five thousand head of cattle at his Los Árboles estancia. At that time people did no talk about vendimia (grape harvest) but about veranadas (summer grazing); and they exported cows instead of wine. Livestock was herded across the mountain range and delivered on the hoof to the Chilean neighbors.
It is an honor to hear Rafael –Ñoño- Díaz Guiñazú, nephew of Don Correa, and Fany, his wife, telling this story. “You did not hear people talking in French or English as you do know. Except when Walt Disney was here”, remembers Rafael with a nostalgic smile. “My uncle had met him through Florencio Molina Campos. It is difficult to believe it, but Walt Disney also sat on the leather benches of the chapel of the Sacred Heart (now renamed Saint Jude Thaddeus) which Fany ordered built in 1941 to catechize people.” Mickey Mouse’s creator landed in Mendoza in 1941; it was a stopover in a diplomatic trip: President Franklin Roosevelt had enlisted his help and the goal was to visit Brazil, Argentina and Chile to try to find allies within the framework of the Second World War. Besides the formal activities, Walter Elias Disney took advantage of the tour to research South American culture and folklore. Some of his interviews with historians and local personalities, who inspired him the characters of the movie “Saludos Amigos” (1942), can be seen in “Walt and El Grupo”, a documentary from 2009. The colorful detail is that, when Disney arrived in Argentina, his Studios back home were in the middle of a fierce strike because cartoonists wanted salary increase after the success of “Snow White”, so he even toyed with the possibility of moving the Studios here, down south. But in Uco, that landscape of cows and gauchos that the famous American producer got to know is now as much a thing of the past as this anecdote. The revolution dates from the 1990s, when people learned about the drip irrigation system. The mighty power of a drop of water turned the desert into an oasis, the cow corrals into vineyards, the wine into the valley’s new identity and the harsh circuit of cattle driving across the mountain range was replaced by horse-rides which lure bold adventures.
A new map...
Forget about folding road maps, exact directions and GPS coordinates, especially if you are planning to use all of the above mentioned after a wine-tasting tour. Nowadays, as wineries are the new reference points, it is very easy to get your bearings around here. This is true not only because of clear highway-signature, but due to the imposing buildings that, little by little, have given the Valley a new face . Though the architecture of these premises where wine is worshipped is powerful enough to attract visitors from around the globe, it has the exact amount of humility to avoid overshadowing the magnificent landscape that surrounds it.
This perfect balance between design and surrounding areas has the signature of Bormida &Yanzon. This architecture studio from Mendoza has achieved such a degree of specialization in the building of wineries that it has become its own competition: there is an ever-more-sophisticated-offering of new creations born at Bormida & Yanzon’s draft-boards that continually enlarges the traditional tour.
First in their list of successful winery buildings is Salentein, owned by Dutchman Mijndert Pon. Besides being a pioneer in the area, he was bold enough to make several additions to his winery: an international art museum, Killka; and inn –which after its 2008 extension lodges 16 people -, two gourmet restaurants and a chapel. Also designed by Bormida & Yanzon, you’ll find Diamandes, Atamisque, and The Vines of Mendoza, the new must-see jewel in this destination. The vines is worthy of a visit not only for its design, but for the novelty of its proposal: Pablo Giménez Rilli and Michael Evans began to market the wine experience in 2004, at a wine bar in Mendoza city. In 2007, they upped the ante when they decided to plant vineyards in a 400-hectare lot in Tunuyán to establish the Private Vineyard Estates concept. From that moment on, any way lover may become a winemaker without making an industrial-scale investment.
Today The Vines has 140 associates who chose to buy a few rows of vine to harvest the grapes and manage the vinification and marketing of wine under the guidance of a team of experts led by enologist Pablo Martorell. The Vines Resort & Spa – already a member of The Leading Hotels of The World – has opened 20 luxury villas (to which another 30 will be added) and a kitchen commanded by Francis Mallmann. Francis shines there with his second restaurant in Mendoza – the other one is 1884, in the provincial capital - which will bear the name of his latest book, Siete Fuegos (seven fires). A tip for the anxious: even though they are still building the resort, you can taste the seven-step menu under and arbor that this poet-chef skillfully improvised among vineyards. Just a handful of trunks and branches, and a few yards of striped cloth were enough to offer an unforgettable meal. As Mallman is not here, it is Diego Irrera, his disciple, who stages the show of fires. With the precision of a surgeon and the charisma of a entertainer, the skins a salmon-in-salt cooked over the portable stove or unearths a lamb curanto right before his guests’ eyes. Every dish sets a different scene in which he explains how it has been cooked, and between each scene there is an interval to taste the food accompanied by a glass of suitable wine. Those who still are able to move after having desert may burn a few calories at the bocce court, or rather, with a full tummy and a happy heart, guests can inaugurate the hammock area with a siesta among the vineyards.
Roby Riedel, Francis Mallmann and Mariano Rodriguez.
A different wine-cuisine formula is the one practiced at the O Fournier winery. Owned by Spanish family Ortega Gil-Fournier, here the wine concept and gourmet rites are staged at the restaurant of Nadia Harón. A pharmacist and talented chef, Nadia left San Sebastián in 2007 to accompany her husband, José Manuel, who came to open a winery in Mendoza. Later on, destiny decreed that her hobby should become her job. Suddenly she found herself at the helm of Urban, with a sophisticated six-step menu they change every Thursday. Success brought her closer to the province capital in 2010, when she opened Nadia O.F. – outside the Uco Valley territory -, which is an extension of Urban that opens only at nighttime in Chacras de Coria.
So many things to do in the Mendoza wine country. So many sunny days to do them. Biking, Trekking, Golfing. Fly-fishing, Hiking, White water rafting., Winery tours... Whatever you and your family are into, you’ll find it in Uco Valley. Blessed with 300 sunny days a year, Mendoza is renowned for its outdoors recreation. And like any world-class destination, it has the resorts, gourmet dining, and indulgent day spas to back it up.
Mendoza Holidays offers the highest level of service and personal attention to individuals, groups and business travelers. Simply create your own detailed itinerary online or, if you prefer, call the enquiry line and speak to one our experienced advisers. Either way, you can enjoy peace of mind with or all-in-one through service.
It’s all here waiting for you. Why wait to enjoy it? Your vacation time is limited. Go ahead, explore Mendoza Wine Country, we’ll have your room waiting !!
Mendoza Holidays Wine Tours has once again received an International ¨Best of Wine Tourism Award¨ (2010/2011/2012 & 2013) thanks to the exceptional and memorable wine tourism experience offered to clients. Great Wine Capitals Global Network. www.greatwinecapitals.com