27 March 2010

CREA - Mendoza Wine Country

My family and I were able to visit western Argentina, Mendoza Province in mid-March. CREA Regional Valles Cordilleranos is a regional group of producers who grow grapes and/or olives. Most of the grapes are for wine. The vocale of the region is Alejandro Toso, a producer who has a vineyard just south of the city of Mendoza.

-- Just as a quick reminder, producers make up CREA groups. The groups make up regions. Each group has a president that serves for two years. The presidents of a region elect a "vocal" to represent the region.--

Alejandro encouraged us to visit several places in Mendoza Province, including Bodegas Salentein, a winery in Alejandro's CREA group. Bodegas Salentein has a wine cellar, a restaurant and museum and a church all on the same farm. This place looked like it was designed to have visitors and tours, just like the tour we attended. The cost for adults to tour the vineyard and cellar was 20 pesos (about $5.30 US Dollars). The drive from central Mendoza city took about an hour, maybe a little more. But, the vineyards and view of the mountains was worth it.

We took one day to visit Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. No grapes, but a fantastic view. Vineyards closer to the mountains are at higher elevations and produce grapes that get higher prices for wine. If I understand correctly, the higher elevations bring cooler night temperatures and that helps with color and acidity.

We visited Alejandro's farm, Vinas de Barrancas, which is about 30 to 40 minutes south of central Mendoza city. Alejandro has 100 hectares of grapes. He grows five varieties of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignion Blanc. He sells grapes to five different wineries.

In addition to growing grapes, Alejandro offers lunches and the freedom to walk through his finca (farm). Reservations are required. But, after lunch, you walk under the shade of trees through much of his farm and walk to a high point to get a really good view of the valley. So, if you are in the Mendoza area, take the time to visit Vinas de Barrancas, enjoy a great lunch and learn a little about the wine industry as well.

Grape harvest was in full swing and Alejandro took us to one of his neighbors to see the harvest. Grape harvest is mostly done by hand, even though machinery harvesters are available. Many of the wineries prefer to have hand-harvested grapes as part of the tradition.

The CREA group to which Alejandro belongs is CREA Los Barrancas. There are 16 members of CREA Los Barrancas. Three of the members only grow grapes and sell those grapes to wineries. The remaining 13 have both vineyards and wineries. The general meeting schedule for this group is to meet at 9 am and start by the host producer presenting the operation. Things discussed include the winemaking process, grapes and growing grapes. In addition, if the host producer has a winery, then wine tasting occurs and the members of the group provide feedback on how the wine should be priced and marketed. Lunch occurs by 2 pm and the official meeting is over. After lunch, the group members may stay and talk until as late as 6 pm. While the schedule is a little different from CREA groups in southern Santa Fe, the purpose of the meeting is the same, one producer presents his operation and some questions. The other members do their best to provide suggestions, criticism and guidance.

There are ten CREA groups that make up the Region Valles Cordilleranos of CREA. Most of the groups produce grapes. Five of the groups are based in Mendoza. One CREA group in the region is made of producers who grow table grapes. Two groups are for producers of olives.

A side note: almost every farm I visit, the farmer asks me for areas where he can improve. Normally, the farmer gets agitated if I do not provide at least one suggestion. They want me to be critical. They want to see an area that they are missing.

So, while the crops are different, the concept of CREA in the Mendoza area is similar to CREA in southern Santa Fe.

Vines at Bodega Salentein.

Wine cellar of Bodega Salentein.

Barrels of wine aging at the cellar of Bodega Valentein.

Bottles of wine aging at Bodega Salentein.

The restaurant and museum at Bodega Salentein.

Anconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

Alejandro Toso and myself at his farm.

Field of malbec grapes at Vinas de Barrancas.

Vinas de Barrancas.

Harvesting grapes at Finca del Inca, a farm near Alejandro's.

Taking boxes of grapes to the truck. Each worker is paid for each box of grapes harvested.

Box of harvested grapes at Finca del Inca.

Grapes at Finca del Inca.

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