Argentina, March 2011

Earlier this year, Lauren Todd (Tasting Room Manager), Mark Schabel (Winemaker), Daniel Gomez (Enology consultant) and I traveled to Argentina to visit our vineyards, high up in the Andes Mountains. (Please see earlier Blogs for more details on our prior Argentina trips). This time the plan was simple: Go to Mendoza, tour the vineyards, taste our Malbecs, approve them for bottling and then travel to Salta (350 miles away) to do the same thing, only with Torrontes. But as my Jewish friends say: If you want to make God laugh, make plans!

We got to Salta without problems, where we had a nice dinner with our Temecula neighbor Marcelo Doffo in the old section of town. Early the next day we got on our rented 4-wheel drive for the 3-hour drive to Cafayate, the last town before our ascent to the Andes.

The drive was spectacular as the lush jungle environment gave way to the high desert.

The roaring river along the road was obviously cresting due to the recent rains. Hmmm. It was just a creek last time…

From Salta to Cafayate…

Downtown Cafayate

After lunch at the old town of Cafayate with our host, we started up a rutted dirt road up the mountain for the 2 1/2-hour drive to the next outpost, Molinos.

The plan was to cross the river at Molinos for the final push to the vineyards above. The river there is normally just a sandy wash and even in wet years carries only a trickle down to the valley. This year we were shocked to find a red monster at least a mile wide carrying branches and small trees downstream. No way to cross, even with our off road rig.

No way to cross…Yet

Should we swim?

Back to the town to regroup, we found the charming hotel Hacienda de Molinos, the old Salta governors’ mansion from the late 18th century.

Claudio said: We are staying here, OK?

Hacienda de Molinos–Inspiration for the Ponte Vineyard Inn

After checking in, we spotted a gaucho in front of the hotel with a bunch of horses tied to a tree, and we got the idea to cross the river on horseback. We negotiated a fee and planned on an early start the following day.

Our new friend, the Gaucho

Our Gaucho shows what he can do…

After a great dinner at the hacienda, with a variety of local wines (and no fear of a DUI), we went to bed, well, tipsy.

A fabulous dinner with friends…

Lauren tries (and fails) to drink Claudio under the table

The river was much lower the next day and the crossing was uneventful.

This is how we did it…

The high desert of Argentina

Almost there…

Our hosts were waiting on the other side and after another long drive through the very high desert we finally arrived at the vineyards.

Malbec (not ours) – 7,000 ft.

Mark and Daniel tasted the grapes, the prior year’s wines, and gave the go ahead to make and bottle the wine for Ponte. These vineyards are above 7,000 feet (higher than Mammoth Lakes) and produce the best Torrontes in the world.

Torrontes – Mmmmm….

After lunch and another river fording on the horses we were back at Molinos at sunset.

Whew, what a day…

Just one more hour behind this guy…

We returned to Cafayate and Salta, and then flew back to California with wonderful memories of our Argentina adventure. We hope you’ve enjoyed the photos in the Blog and see you at the winery for a glass of Torrontes!

Claudio