Noemia

The local bus was taking forever. On the map there looked to be about 40 kms between Neuquen and Rio Negro, not far, there in half an hour. However, I forgot that I was traveling in South America and nothing is ever quick or fast on a bus, even if it was the “express” bus, it’s a term used very loosely in this part of the world. I swear we stopped at every other street corner along the way. I was in Patagonia and to get here it takes 15 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires, down a lonely 2-lane highway. It really did feel like the bottom of the world. Isolated, windswept desert vistas as far as the eye can see, with the occasional tiny settlement on the Patagonian steppe. While it may not look like the ideal place to grow grapes and is hundreds of miles away from any “real” civilization, Patagonia has proven to be the place to go for adventurous wines makers. I had been alerted to the vineyards of Rio Negro from the winemakers of Neuquen, which I had been visiting. Go there if you want to try wines from old vines, they said. It was just a short drive away, 40 kms. “That’s nothing”, or so I thought, to the Rio Negro Valley. The Rio Negro Valley is 625 miles south of Buenos Aires but it was one of the first regions to produce wine on a large scale in Argentina. As a matter of fact, 100 years ago, it was the place to go for quality Argentine wines. Over the years, though, farmers found it more profitable and easier to grow apples and pears and most of the vineyards were grubbed up and replaced with fruit orchards. There are still a few wineries in the area and the land is quite suitable for viticulture, being in an irrigated oasis in the Patagonian desert. As the vineyards are in the desert, there are very few, if any,...

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Wine at the beach, Argentina

It’s hard to believe, sitting here in my flat in London, all wrapped up in a heavy jumper and wearing thick socks, that a little over a week ago I was frolicking in the waves and stretching out on the beach in Argentina. Like all holidays, that one had to come to an end and so I find myself flipping through my slideshow on my laptop, hardly believing that I was basking in the sun such a short time ago. Like any wineblogger worth her salt, I took pics of most of the wines we had and even though they were not top of the line, we were at the beach, upon reflection I realized that they were very good value for  money. This being Argentina, a land of good, affordable wine, you can walk into any supermarket or even corner shop and find a wall of wine. Granted, it might not be the best and sometimes, storage conditions are not exactly ideal but for around £3-£5, you can get a decent wine to go along with your pizza or pasta. It being summer, the days are long and we often didn’t get home from the beach til past 8. Bear in mind that in Villa Gesell, where we were staying, the shops have some archaic rule that they cannot sell wine after 9pm! You can imagine the rush then upon returning home, jump into the shower to wash off the sand and then a quick run into town to pick up a bottle before they stopped selling wine. I know, you’re probably thinking, why didn’t you just buy a case at the beginning of the week but what fun is that? The SAME wine every night? No thanks. Plus, I got to check out the different stocks of various shops. The first night was when we discovered that stupid rule but luckily, we found a restaurant that would sell us a bottle of wine takeaway. The Fond de Cave 2009 Malbec from Mendoza,...

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Making wine at the end of the world…Bodega del Fin del Mundo

As I ventured further south into the Pampas and beyond of Argentina, it really did begin to feel like the end of the world. The Argentines  have a phrase, “el culo del mundo”  which roughly translates as the “ass of the world” . Once you’ve gone 15 hrs on a bus on a 2 lane highway that never wavers, never swerves, just one long, lone straight line that disappears into the distance, either side of the highway, not a hillock in sight, flat as a pancake, just the land and the sky. It is a lonely feeling. Eventually, you do come upon a major settlement and that would be the capital city of Neuquen, deep in Patagonia. A dusty, low slung city, once you leave the city limits you are back into the desert and then, trees, a (man made) lake, signs of life. This is where Bodega del Fin Del Mundo is, 50 kms outside of Neuquen at a road that ends in vines. The Bodega del Fin del Mundo winery, like most of the wineries in Neuquen is fairly new, having been built within the last 10 years. Lots of stainless steel tanks, state of the art technology and a good size cave, which houses more than 2000 oak barrels, both French and American, give it an up-to-the-minute feel despite it’s lonely location. The winery is technically in the designated grape producing region of San Particio del Chañar, within the Patagonian province of Neuquen. San Patricio del Chañar is very dry (less then 180 ml rainfall annually) and the winery relies on irrigation to water it’s 800 hectares of grapes. Another definitive factor in the grape production is the strong Patagonian winds that blow constantly, causing the grapes to have thick skins which contributes mightly to the colour without the need for much extraction.   BFDM grow a variety of red and white varietals, malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc amongst others. I tasted through their various ranges,...

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More Patagonian winetasting adventures – Bodega NQN

It´s windy in Patagonia. I mean, really windy. The wind never seems to stop. While it´s not very good for my hair, it´s great for the vines. The desert winds of Patagonia sweep the vineyards clear of pests, make for an antiseptic environment, keep humidity to a minimum and gives the berries a thick skin. Neuquen, Patagonia has some of the newest vineyards in the world, most of them in fact were started less then 10 years ago. San Patricio del Chañar is what they´ve christened the newest wine producing region of Argentina and it sits between two desert plateaus, an oasis in the Patagonian desert, none of which could be possible without extensive irrigation. Fortunately, the Rio Negro runs through the desert and it is from this river that the vineyards get their water.   Following a dusty, narrow,  one and half lane road (it seemed like that to me, every time we saw a bus coming our way, I closed my eyes in anticipation of getting hit by it) we finally arrived at Bodega NQN, situated about 50 kms from Neuquen city. An ultra modern winery, it sits on top of a small hill overlooking the vines. Because there is so much space in Argentina, this vineyard covered hectares and hectares of land. They have over a 1000 hectares to work with, only a fraction of it being currently used but there are plans to plant more vines in the future. Lucas Nemesio, the owner of the vineyard was kind enough to sit down with me for lunch, paired with his wines, in the winery restaurant Malma. Over lunch, Lucas explained to me that their philosophy is to keep the character of their Patagonian wines. They don´t want to cater to any particular markets or styles. For this reason, they don´t have a flying winemaker as many Argentine wineries do, but prefer to go it on their own and see what the grapes themselves are capable of producing.  The vines of Patagonia are very...

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Literally in the middle of nowhere,Bodega del Desierto -La Pampa, Patagonia

Picture it: Sicily, 1920, an Italian peasant, boarding the boat for a new life in the new world, all his worldly possessions in a beat-up old suitcase, cradling a tiny vine in his pocket, nurturing it, taking care that nothing happens to it on the long voyage across the sea. Finally, he arrives in the port of Buenos Aires and makes his way across the pampas to the province of Mendoza where he finds a beautiful plot of land beneath the Andes. Here, here is where he will plant his carefully tended vine and make wine. If only that´s the  way that Bodega del Desierto was founded. Instead, what started out as a gas company  looking to diversify it´s investments in the La Pampa region of Argentina has turned into a labour of love. Originally, the gas company was looking to grow grapes and sell them onward but the vines transfixed the family behind the company and before they knew it, they were pouring money and manpower into transforming the Patagonian desert into a vineyard. Helped along early on by expert winemakers, the desert has now produced a vineyard of very high quality. Famed Argentine wine maker, Mario Toso was brought on board to develop the project and he in turn brought on California winemaker, Paul Hobbs, once he realized the potential of the area. At first, Hobbs was reluctant to take on a winery that had only produced one vintage  but Toso convinced him that the area was capable of producing high quality grapes and after a bit of persuasion, Hobbs agreed to contribute his expertise. The first thing they did was decide to make all the vineyard decisions while the vines were being planted and growing. Thus they knew they could get the best quality out of the grapes according to how they raised the vines from the very beginning. The vineyards are literally in the middle of  nowhere, 160 kms from the nearest human settlement, the area was virgin desert land, not having...

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