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May
27

Getting Drunk in Patagonia

Getting Drunk in Patagonia

drinking wine in patagonia

Yep, that’s right, getting drunk. As in primary activity, purpose for travel. Goal. Don’t call AA. I want no sponsors knocking at my door, heaving their great big book of troubles. If they went to Patagonia, they’d get drunk too. Perhaps that wouldn’t be their sole reason for going, but that’s what I call a detail.

So it went a little like this:

aerolineas argentinas

Not AlItalia

I was sent out to do a story on a certain stud of an Italian winemaker, you know the type, reclusive, BUT in need of major attention, rich, hot in an obvious way. I thought I was headed to Florence, of course, put my fingers to work and found seriously a disgustingly cheap ticket to Florence and started pretending to the mirror that I was Valeria Gollina, by far the hottest Italian woman out there today.

Then, of course as my luck always has it, my editor calls and tells me to forget Florence, unpack the bikini, and find some sturdy hiking boots pronto. I’m going to Argentina, and not Buenos Aires Argentina, but end of the earth Argentina. Great. Wonderful. Argentina. Land of horses, shit, red meat and wine. Oh and wind. Let’s not forget the never-ending wind whipping its way through dust and desolation.
the goucho

the goucho

The Río Negro region of Patagonia is the middle of nowhere. To get to it, I flew to Buenos Aires, then caught a four-hour connecting flight south to Neuquén, then drove for an hour down a narrow highway past fruit stands, super sad casinos and bored hookers who wait by the road for bored truckers. When I saw them I thought of a career change. For me not them. I thought of Florence and Prada, I thought of a knife and I thought of my editor. I so did not deserve to be in this Podunk town.

waiting for customers

waiting for customers

Anyway, maybe if I got in and got out, I could at least run back to the good old Buenos Aires for a little fun.

wineries

wineries

Crap! I almost missed my turn. Take a left onto an unmarked road, drive another half hour over gravel and dirt roads and get out. What’s there? Not much. The Río Negro itself; the narrow corridor of fertile land on either side of the river, which the English irrigated in the 1820s. Poplars are planted throughout because they grow fast and tall and block the wind which can whip so fast bugs can’t hang onto the vines.

no cream is gonna help this guy

no cream is gonna help this guy

I look up, overhead flocks of yellow-headed parrots chattered maniacally at one another. Patagonia is so far south, at the end of the world, it’s tough on the skin, all you need to do is look at the locals, those poor hookers, man, there’s not  enough Clinique in the world, if you know what I mean. Poor trees too, with no leaves, the wind up to 80 miles an hour, and it whips everything away, and the sun bakes the rest. Unseasonable frost can wipe out whole crops.

“Plus,” Carlo, my hot Italian winemaker guide who is a dead ringer for Fabio says, “there are the man-made problems as well,  power goes out, water goes out.”

charcra winery

charcra winery

His pad, a new but beautifully old farm on two-thousand acres. It’s green, manicured and doesn’t look like it belongs here. “Really?”

“Really what?” He’s flirting desperately now. Or is that just my imagination?

“You’re from the most hospitable place in the world and you choose the most inhospitable place to live? This place does not want you.”

“Yes, it’s true,” says the hot lonely flirting winemaker, “the land is hard, but the beauty of it, the raw nature is something that you have to fight for. It’s like the wild west, the old west, what American once was. Just look around.”

carlo

Carlo, the way i want to see him

I’m looking, but I’m not seeing.

“Here, “ he looks out over the vineyards, “I will make wines of consequence, wines that stimulate your soul.”

Great, whatever. Just get me the hell out of here.

rio negro

rio negro

“Come, let me show you around. Patagonia, is like a rose covered in bugs,” his green eyes catch the light, he’s kinda growing on me, or maybe I’m drunk. Yep, I’m drunk. He takes me to see the crop of European vineyards that have shot up all around here.

The first night we go to  Bodega Noemía, a specialist in old-vine Malbec, owned by Noemi Marone Cinzano. That evening, we headed there for dinner. Noemi is a countess, a Cinzano on one side and an Agnelli on the other. Not that I care, because I don’t. I find Aristocracy boring.

bodega

bodega noemia

As we stand in the dusk drinking a tasty Malbec rosé and snacking on a tomato and aioli pizza, Carlo recounts his first intimation that Patagonia might be a great Pinot Noir region. It was in 2002, when he tasted a wine from the Humberto Canale winery, the oldest one in Río Negro. Carlo recalls, “I fell in love with the DNA of that wine. It was not so much that particular wine, but the potential you could sense in it.”

the dirt's dna

snorting the dna

Carlo LOVES to talk about himself. In fact, between you and me, wine people are really the most boring bunch of red-lipped people I’ve ever come across. They are so full of themselves and their wine, I mean don’t even try to actually swallow the whole glass, or you get the look of the master and the servant.

“You must not swallow so frequently,” Carlo tells me.

“You must merely hint at the aroma,” the Cinzano woman says.

my dinner companion

my sober dinner companion

“I’m a writer,” I am forced to point out the obvious, “we drink to swallow.”

Sadly the following day I was not allowed to escape back to the city, I was made to go on a wine tour of the area and write about it. Endless casks of boring wine, in other words, wine that could not be drunk.

pinot

pinot

The Medoza Region has over 900 distinct wineries. Later, we drive up to the foothills of the Andes, and even I have to admit it’s stunning. Fortunately we drink all day, Carlo takes me to one winery after the other. The real perk here is that by going with him, I can fill my glass to its brim and drink it down, no questions asked. They treat him like hot shit here. As I drink, his eyes grow greener and I’m beginning to dig this whole end of the earth thing and as the free wine flows, I am pretty sure I’ve met the father of my children.

yep, that's what i'm talking about

yep, that's what i'm talking about

We drive to Alta Vista, a one hundred year-old winery founded by Spaniards but now owned by a French family. They specialize in “Terroir Expressión” whereby they produce several single vineyard Malbecs, all scoring very high points. Here we taste three wines, starting with their Torrontés and finishing with their Grand Reserve, both Gold Medal winning wines.

alta vista winery

alta vista winery

From here we travel a short distance to Hacienda del Plata which continues to play an important role in Mendoza’s wine history. Founded in the 18th Centur, it has taken generations of hard and intensive labor on the barren desert land that surrounds the estancia to cultivate it and produce outstanding Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. These people are seriously stubborn.

Hacienda Del Plata

Hacienda Del Plata

We lunch in Cava del Cano. Set in a beautiful, colonial style building, it’s a treat to be out of the fields. Lunch is a fantastic display of artisan cheeses, salamis and meats.  And es, Ladies and gentlemen, wine.

lunch

lunch

That’s when Carlo looks at me and says, “What better way to visit vineyards and taste their delicious wines than by a leisurely bike ride through this beautiful region?”

My first instinct is to throw up all over him and his ridiculously manicured house. But then I remember I’m on a story and my responsibility is to you dear nonexistent reader. So I flash my Pam Anderson smile and say, ‘wow! What a great idea!”

Mendoza bikeriding

Mendoza bikeriding

Twenty minutes later and I’m still pedaling. I swear my skin is growing more wrinkled by the second, my mouth drier. I need wine.

thirsty

thirsty

“Just a little further,” he says, “to Beltrán and the family-owned and operated Bodega Familia Zuccardi. Our guide meets us, Carlo, of course, name drops and we are whisked away to the gardens at Casa del Visitante where we are served, in sadly tiny glasses, three varieties of the Santa Julia Chardonnay–original, organic, and reserve. Next, visit the Syrah vineyards, where Familia Zuccardi creates their Santa Julia Syrah and Syrah Rosé.

bodega

bodega zuccardi

Just when I’m getting a really relaxing buzz going, a  jet appears, Carlo’s jet, of course,  smack in front of us. “What the hell?” I stare, but I am thrilled. I drop the bike faster than you can say Schwinn and climb into the plane, I don’t even care where we’re going.

rafting manso river

rafting manso river

“You will love the Lakes District.” Carlo announces,  “this is where we come to hike, kayak, and raft down the Manso river.”

We stay in the resort town of Bariloche on the shores of beautiful Nahuel Huapi Lake. And believe it or not, it wakes me from my stupor. After breakfast in bed at the Park Hyatt, which is lovely, we arrive at John’s Ranch and Carlo’s got coffee on the shore of the river.

bariloche nahuel huapi lake

bariloche nahuel huapi lake

“Change into your wetsuit,” Carlo points to the mountains capped with snow. Yikes.  I climb in with the guide and hold on for the most thrilling ride of my life. There’s forests, and rocks, the scenery is wild, pristine and massive. When we come to a slow stop, I am informed that we’ve reached the border with Chile. We go and change clothes and head back to the ranch for a traditional barbeque of slabs of meat, gallons of red wine but you know what I frickin’ starved.

manso rafting bariloche patagonia

manso rafting bariloche patagonia

Day two here, again no wine. But Kayaking. After breakfast at the hotel and travel to the launching beach, we hit the serene waters of Nahuel Huapi Lake. The calm surroundings are so different from yesterday’s rapids, and the picnic is just great, Salty goat cheese and red wine. I’m constantly buzzed here which is great. I think I might just stay. At the end of the day we go to Llao-Llao Hotel for a swim and a drink, old-world luxury is everywhere here but it’s not fading, it’s not sagging. It feels new and revived. These people are like frontiersmen, they are self-sufficient, don’t complain and truly love the land.

We take the plane back to Carlo’s house. I pack and for some weird reason I’m sad to be leaving.

my man

my man

“Did you get what you came for?” he asks me. He looks tired and sexy.

I’m giving him that look, I can see us here, living the life of expat drunk frontiers people, I’ve even got our outfits picked out:

me and him happily ever after

me and him happily ever after

So much better than the streets of New York, don’t you think?

Stephen rounded them up in this handy post www.cellspyapps.org/parental-control-apps-android which you should definitely check out

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