I stand in a field at Domaine Saint Diego winery outside of Mendoza, Argentina. It’s a perfect autumn day in the Southern Hemisphere and the sun beams down bright and warm on my shoulders, dousing the neatly lined rows of grapes before me with rich light. The air here is crisp and pure. Just breathing it in my soul feels healthier.
Domaine St. Diego is the second winery I have visited today on a private tour with Uncorking Argentina, a company that creates custom experiences to wineries in the region that produces more than 60 percent of the country’s wine.
There are more than 1,500 public wineries in the region, and with just one day in Mendoza I knew I needed some help in developing a plan of action to learn and see as much as I could with my limited time. Thankfully, the experts at Uncorking Argentina put together a three-stop itinerary for me directed at showcasing the diversity of offerings in the region.
“We start building the tour from the very beginning with our clients,” says Lujan Castiglione, the company’s logistics manager. “Whatever types of experiences they want to have here, we mold them from scratch.”
After meeting the team at Uncorking Argentina’s offices in downtown Mendoza, Ruben, my driver for the day whisked me away in a sleek white car to the rural countryside.
Our first stop of the day was to Bodega Benegas, one of the most historic wineries in all of Argentina with history dating back to 1901. In fact, some of the vines that are still used in wine production are between 80 and 120 years old.
I can feel history all around me with every step I take on the property, from the rows of vines that line the entrance to the on-site museum featuring antique farming equipment and down to the cool cellar, where oak barrels line the dimly lit space. In the cellar a small room is set aside for tastings.
“Everyone of our wines is a reflection of our passion in search for excellence,” says Ramiro Araya, hospitality manager, as he pours wine for the tasting.
“Bodega Benegas has a great combination of history, architecture and wine,” he adds. “We do things you don’t find in many other wineries.
My favorite wine here is the 2006 Cabernet Franc. The wine sat for seven years in oak before being released. This time allowed for a perfect balance of flavors and a sweet fragrance that smells strongly of berries.
Domaine St. Diego
Our next stop is a winery where love is infused into every grape. Domaine St. Diego is a family-owned winery created by Angel Mendoza, a renowned winemaker who worked for Trapiche Wines for more than 25 years. The entire family including his wife and three children work here, and his daughter Maria Laura gives tours.
Just setting foot on the property it’s easy to sense that this is the type of winery where the people who work here really care. It’s the type of winery where growing, not producing is the priority and the grapes are so well cared for you feel as if the family checks in on each one individually. They even plant roses next to the grape plants because, just in case there happen to be any diseases, they will attack the roses first and alert the growers before the grapes are ruined.
On our tour Laura walks us across many corners of the property, explaining the production of wine along the way. A sign nestled next to an olive tree reads Americans have invented a terrible word – “winemaker.” This word doesn’t exist. Wine is grown. We are growers.
Indeed, on the tour you really get the sense just how important the growing process is in wine production overall.
“The idea is to show you more how the wine is grown,” Laura said.“ The grapes are very important to us.”
During our tasting one wine in particular speaks close to my heart. It is called paradigma and uses the patricia grape, a basic grape that nearly no one uses to produce wine.
“My father wanted to show that table grapes could make great wine too, “Laura says. “We want to make a shift in the industry.”
This statement is infused with such bold power. I love it.
Our third and final stop of the day, Finca Agostino, captures the elegance of the wine industry in its every detail. Opened in 2005, the winery is the creation of four siblings from Canada who long dreamed of operating vineyards in the Maipu region.
From the irrigation system that waters the fields, to the industrial processing system, to the state of the art cellar for wine storage, the winery uses some of the most advanced technology for wine production.
The same can be said for architectural design. From the welcome center with it’s silver-encrusted display cases and the rooftop terrace that overlooks the vineyards, to the bright and airy production center with shinning metal barrels, to the onsite restaurant covered with floor-length curtains that billow in the breeze, the property is an aesthetic dream. To top things off, tours are lead by the glamorous Queen of Maipu herself, Mariana Encina.
I enjoy a wine pairing lunch at the restaurant.
Chef Sergio Guardia serves dish after dish of creative flavors. An abre boca of goat cheese, pesto and zucchini to start, watermelon sorbet and rose pimiento home made bread, cream of orange and carrot in a roll of vegetables and rice paper, pure of lentils with olive oil, filet mignon, and pumantes for dessert.
My favorite wine served during the lunch is the Agostino Familia Tinto, which I admit I may like even more because of the story behind its flavor. The wine is blended using four different grapes, representing the four siblings who came together to create this place, to fulfill their dream.
I think the beauty of my day wine tasting in Mendoza is best summed up by something Laura said as we walked through the green grass lawn near her home and I asked her what her favorite wine is.
“We don’t consider that one wine is better than the other,” she said. “Every wine has its own moment when it is the best to enjoy.”
Her words entered the bright air and rung loud with a resonance that travels far beyond the grapes and bottles of wine before us.
There is no “best winery” in Mendoza. Each is home to its own unique array of charms, and thanks to Uncorking Argentina, I have enjoyed rich moments at each.
Note: Uncorking Argentina provided me with a complimentary tour of wineries in Mendoza. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.