“Well, then you know. Cross the first sector of the vineyard and see your villa at the bottom on the right”!
Cecília Diaz Huit directs us, still somewhat apprehensive due to the obvious visual abyss that separated us from the other guests, almost all wealthy South American executives or vacationers, dedicated to wineries.
It had only been a year and a half since we met this enterprising Argentine. On her first visit to Mendoza, we found her as Marketing Manager at the local Hyatt hotel. He had already suggested to us then that he was preparing more ambitious flights.
To date, most visitors to the province of Mendoza have stayed in the homonymous capital. They set out to discover the vast winemaking domain spread across the endless surroundings of Godoy Cruz, Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo. Vast areas, if we take into account that the province of Mendoza is almost the size of Portugal.
Cecília and her winemaker husband Martin Rigal understood the gap. They did not hesitate to resolve it.
When we returned to the area, they welcomed us to their newly opened wine hotel, located in a corner of Lujan de Cuyo's vine-green sea, isolated by the immensity of the landscape. In fact, among several wineries with whimsical architecture.
And a view of the snowy mountains of the pre-Andean mountain range.
They were not, by far, the first to take advantage of the sunny fertility of those parts.
The Long History of Enology in the Province of Mendoza
The first Spanish colonists noticed, shortly after arriving there, the dryness and irrigable aridity. They also noticed the great thermal amplitude in the region. It was they – especially the Catholic missionaries – who planted the first experimental vineyards.
Wine production remained for a long time creole and localized. In the XNUMXth century, the intensification of the immigration of Italians and Spaniards – also French and others – made oenology begin to be taken seriously.
From then on, competition between family wineries led to a process of maturation of the wine industry that the construction of the railway between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, in 1884, favored.
Despite this progress, until three decades ago, despite being the fifth in the world in terms of quantity, Argentine wine was not exported. It was considered too inferior to the one imported from Europe by the French-style mansions of Buenos Aires.
By that time, winery owners found that beer already occupied a significant part of the national alcoholic beverage market. And that the annual per capita consumption of wine had dropped from 25 liters in 1960 to less than 10.
They were forced to redouble their efforts. They resorted to foreign investors and winemakers. Its entry into the scene meant that, in a short time, the best Argentine labels were spotted and recognized around the world.
Catena Zapata. A Successful Eno-Producing Family. Among So Many Others
The Catena Zapata family, arriving from Italy in 1898, has become one of the biggest owners of vineyards in the region and a case of enormous success.
When we visit its winery and headquarters, we are dazzled by the sumptuous grandeur it has endowed with, designed with influence from the Mayan pyramids of Tikal.
The welcoming yet pragmatic posture and pompous speech of Nicholas, the heir to the throne of this wine dynasty, also impresses us.
Nicholas Catena Zapata sits comfortably atop one of the hundreds of kites in his eccentric cellar. The slender, elegant figure fits in perfectly with the basement environment, yet refined that surrounds us.
"I'm glad it impresses you!" whisper to us as we stroll in disbelief through the building's sumptuous round barrel room. “We spared no effort to build a seat worthy of family history. As you may already know, my predecessors have great responsibility for everything that Mendoza has become.”
The miracle that allowed the Catena Zapata clan and so many others of European origin to take advantage of an almost desert so that it would generate 70% of Argentina's wine production today has few secrets.
The Geological and Climatic Particularity of Mendoza
The province of Mendoza is located, in Argentina, at approximately the same latitude as the capital Buenos Aires but at the opposite longitudinal end of the country.
It appears in an inhospitable and sandy expanse, at the foot of the Andes mountain range which, here, is shared with neighboring Chile, stands more imposing and colorful than anywhere else in South America.
It is crowned by the highest elevation in the Western Hemisphere, Mount Aconcagua (6962 m).
Mendoza's continental location shelters the region from moisture from both the Pacific and the Atlantic. Provides an absolute predominance of sunny days and strong daytime thermal amplitudes.
But if the water only very rarely falls on the flat areas of the province - which often happens in the higher mountains - it ends up sliding over them in flows fed by the melting and the slope, more or less voluminous depending on the time of year,
It was these rivers and streams that the Spanish settlers learned from the Huarpes Indians to channel in a complex network of canals and aqueducts in order to irrigate a sea of vineyards that grew over the centuries.
This engineering also enabled the development of the region's homonymous capital.
Homonym City, Soul and Heart of Mendoza
Mendoza – the city – is famous for an incredible density of huge plane trees that protect it from the harshness of the contrasting climate. Its urban trees are irrigated by countless dimples (open-air canals) that follow the wide avenues downtown.
This is the case of the pedestrian Avenida Sarmiento, where the esplanades dominate the shade and allow residents to enjoy the inevitable picadillos e moon averages (croissants) as they debate the nation's favorite themes and traumas.
As dimples they can, however, do nothing against the tectonic movements observed in the area. As a precaution, the city of Mendoza was endowed with large squares.
Its primary function, the refuge of the population in the event of an earthquake, is somewhat vanished by the improvised picnics, by the Naps and other forms of leisure that the Mendocinos have perfected over time.
Mendoza is not what is expected of a capital.
The vines are long gone but the green remains and predominates. So dictated the landscape design of Frenchman Carlos Thays, author of a surprising work, recognized around the world as one of the most brilliant urban expressions of an oasis.
Founded in 1561 by the Spaniard Pedro del Castillo, as we have already seen, in an area of great seismic activity, the city would soon pay for its ignorance or, worse, its negligence. It was razed by a strong earthquake and only in 1863 did it receive a new layout.
Today, its buildings are rare and homes with more than 4 or 5 floors.
Naturally, the local commercial activity is also organized, to a large extent, in terms of wine.
As Wineries and the Wine Tastings of the Eno-Argentine Province
There are located many of the agencies that organize visits to the wineries more tourist-oriented. Cases of the Escorihuela or La Colina de Oro.
Or La Rural, the winery that houses the largest wine museum in South America, where we can find on display the tools used by the region's settlers in planting the inaugural vineyards.
There are several single-storey buildings in the center that house small fitting rooms, little concerned about their insignificance compared to the pomp of their counterparts on the plain.
We walk down any street when Jaquelina Ascoetti recruits us to join the bodeguita what is your work. And tasting a series of Argentine wines that he is in charge of promoting and selling.
In a gentle and gentle way, the young Mendoza serves us a little Malbec, Cabernet, Syrah, Pinot and Torrontés, in some of the samples, refined combinations of these varieties.
“What do you think?? As old as Europe may be, we have already produced some wines to match yours, don't we?” We cannot disagree. We are grateful for the hostess's dedication.
We say goodbye for a long walk to the famous Azafrán wine bar. That night, we had a tapas dinner with Argentine culinary gestures.
And we drank a few more glasses of the invigorating nectar of the gods of Mendoza.