Mendoza is the Napa Valley of Argentina with some 900 wineries located in three separate regions on the eastern side of the Andes Mountain Range. It is harvest time, so there is much activity up and down the roads of this wine region. Mendoza is desert country, and much of it looks sparse and bleak. Don’t be fooled because on any side road you can find a spectacular multimillion-dollar winery and acres of beautiful vineyards.
The king of the grapes in Mendoza is Malbec, a Bordeaux varietal that has been planted here since the mid-1800’s. In the past 20 years, the wine industry has changed dramatically, and modern techniques in winemaking have brought Argentina’s wine to a world-class
We arrive at the Mendoza airport from Buenos Aires after an hour and a half flight. We rent a car, and within 45 minutes we are in the Maipu Valley and at the Club Tapiz Lodge where we will spend the next two nights. The Ortiz Family of Argentina owns the lodge as well as the nearby Tapiz winery. As we park the car, we can see that harvest is underway in an adjacent vineyard. The temperature is hot, probably in the mid-eighties, and the harvesters are clothed with long pants and shirts and wearing hats that drape over their necks. I can get some good shots of the harvesters working at a fever pitch. They work fast because their pay is determined by how many bins of grapes they pick throughout the day. We will explain more about the harvest techniques and process in a future blog.
The Club Tapiz is very old and an exciting lodge. Much of it new so it is a very comfortable place. The main lodge has seven rooms, and there is a Guest House two hundred yards away with four bedrooms. We are staying in the Guest House which is much more private and has its living room, kitchen, swimming pool and patio where breakfast is served. We even have llamas.
The wine bar in the lodge is open from 8 pm to 9 pm, and after that, you can sit down for dinner or hail a cab to take you into Mendoza. A cab ride to Mendoza is about $15. The dollar is gaining daily on the Argentine Peso, so everything here seems to be a bargain. Our elaborate Club Tapiz dinner including two bottles of wine comes to $60 a couple.
In the mid-afternoon, we visit our first winery about a half hour drive from Club Tapiz. The winery is Tempus Alba. Everybody that works at this small winery has a family connection to the owners. Our tour guide shows us a vineyard where a long-term experiment is taking place to find the best clone of the Malbec grape for the Maipu Valley. They have rows of 25 different clones in this experiment. They propagate and grow the different Malbec vines at the winery. After the tour, we sit on the upper deck that has a fantastic view of the vineyards. We meet the winemaker, Leonardo Biondolillo.
He tells us that it a goal of the winery is to make a small amount of wine at the highest quality possible. To enter the U.S. market he wants to keep the wines at reasonable prices. The inflationary conditions in Argentina make this is a difficult task, he explains. He thinks the recession will offer the opportunity for Argentine wines to make an impact because of their high quality at value pricing. After tasting the wines, we must agree. The flagship wine called Tempus Pleno is extraordinary. We give it 93 points. The price for this wine is $30, and by comparison, a wine of this quality from California would easily be well above $50. Tempus Alba has a U.S. distributor so if you spot it in a wine shop; it is very much worth a purchase.