June 14, 2012

Winter in Patagonia, Summer in Chicago!

Curious Guanacos 

After reading articles produced, inspired or even written by kids, it was high time penguins, whales, sea wolves and elephant seals spoke for themselves!

Peninsula Valdes is one of the best places to see wildlife in Argentina, indeed for those interested in marine life it may be the very best.

Here in Peninsula Valdes one can see Southern right whales, sea lions, orcas (killer whales), magellan penguins and elephant seals as well as many other species, all interacting in their natural habitat. The scenery is also stunning, with a barren majesty that is quite breathtaking, this beautiful coast remains pristine and the water here is crystal clear (making it ideal for diving at the correct times of year). As if this wasn't enough, three giant salt lakes can be found in the middle of the peninsula.

Here is our advice for a visit with the animals as protagonists.


Before heading to the peninsula, the best way to see penguins is going to Punta Tombo. Us Penguins are sometimes outshined by the marine mammals’ splendor and size, but if you want to see an authentic penguin demonstration, you have to come to Punta Tombo. Created in 1979 to protect us, the reserve has the biggest continental colony of Magellan penguins, those wearing tails in black and white. Please bear in mind that if a human being touches us, our smell changes and we are rejected by the rest of the penguins. We are fragile. Tell your children not to touch us.

Mom and Son

Slash, glup, glup! Dip in the water! I am the cold sea of the Peninsula proposing an adventure only for the brave: diving. It may be done either at Puerto Madryn or at Puerto Piramides, but I am always the main character. In my waters you can see starfish, sea urchins, snails and fish like groupers, turcos and salmons.

To keep the body heat at 7 mm thick neoprene suit is used ( the surf ones are only 3 mm thick ) with long legs and sleeves, one piece or two pieces, besides gloves, boots and helmet. It is a tight wetsuit, into which I try to get to warm myself and the humans up a bit in their body temperature.

Diving with sea wolves is expressly forbidden but nobody can forbid them from swimming towards the divers and I can assure you tha the experience is incredible. Besides, there are two sea wolves’ areas at Piramides, Baiza 25 de mayo and Punta Alta, where the meeting is almost guaranteed.

Sea Wolves and Elephant Seals

We are the majority and unlike the killer whales, whales and penguins that like to make themselves scarce, we are there for our audience most part of the year. Sea wolves and elephant seals are pinnipeds, that is, we go back to the earth to mate and bring up our offspring: we live together in the same beaches but we are not the same. Sea wolves belong to the otarido family; elephant seals in turn, are focidos.

Sea wolves more using the four flippers, the elephant seals only with their anterior ones. Both have developed our eyesight more than our hearing, unlike the cetaceans. Did you by any chance think that we didn’t see you laugh at your clumsiness on the ground?  Let’s see what you do in the water, if you are as good as us.  

Right Whale 

Right Whale 

I am the star of the trip, and the last to appear, like all divas. I can assure that I won’t let you down. I’ve certainly got an opponent that is intent on outshining me, a cetaceous relative of another branch of the family. The killer whale, well deserving its tittle. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t talk behind my cousin’s back,one who kills seals for food… but didn’t you come with your offspring? It is part of the natural chain, the econsystem, you name it, but I am much less cruel.

I am the right whale, declared Natural Mounument in 1984 by National Parks to increase its worldwide protection which I enjoy since 1935.  It was by no means enough, more so if you consider that my name in English, “right whale”, comes from being the “indicated” ( right ) one for killing, for being the slowest, the one yielding the hugest quantity of oil and also floating after dying… My 15 metres spine shudders with the thought….

In reality that used to be so. Now more than 600 of us meet each year in Valdes from June to November. September and October are the preferred months by tourists, as it is the time when our “little” ones are born. I am very busy mating, giving birth and taking care of the calf that I am expecting. Boats don’t scare me; on the contrary, they make me curious. I like to go under the boat and see how the tourists go from one side of the boat to the other to follow me and wait to see my big tail – tail-fluke to be more exact – come out of the water or hurl myself up and fall, letting my 30 tons that smack in the sea. I don’t do it all the times, only when I am in the mood of shaking my bones a bit.

If you come with your kids, I promise I’ll think it over ! 

The Penguin, the Right Whale and the Sea Wolf send their love to three smart and adorable siblings in Chicago, Ali, Ben and Sarah.

June 04, 2012

The Vines of Mendoza


The Perfect Marriage of Grape Variety and Terroir 

Catena Zapata 

The Province of Mendoza is Argentina’s largest and most important wine region, where more than 80% of the country’s top wines are produced. Situated in the foothills of the Andes, at the Western border of Argentina, Mendoza is between the latitudes of 32 and 37 degrees south. Mendoza is as far away from the Equator as Napa and many other world class wine regions in the world.

The province has a unique desert climate with low rainfall and 300 days of sunshine a year. Glacial melt-waters flow from the Andes into the vineyards as natural irrigation. The low incidence of pests, unwanted moisture, rot and fungus mean there is little need for pesticides or fungicides.

The Andes are responsible for the higher altitude at which Malbec and other varieties flourish and enjoy the penetrating sunlight intensity that endows the grapes with vibrant flavor and deep color. The wines also show aromatic delicacy, with floral notes (in particular, violet for Malbec), and great complexity due to the ripeness of the tannins.

This unique combination of organically poor soils, unique desert climate, high altitude vineyard elevations, and a diversity of grape varieties allows us to achieve the perfect marriage of grape variety and terroir.

The Three Regions of Mendoza 

There are 3 desertic regions in Mendoza. The Northern Oasis comprises the departments of Lujàn de Cuyo, Maipu, Godoy Cruz, Guaymallén to the West and the departments of San Martín, Santa Rosa, La Paz, etc. to the East. All these departments are wine producing regions. The Western Region is considered a top producing region and the Eastern region is an inferior region. Elevation in this region is between 700m and 1,200m. The Lujan de Cujo region is called "Primera Zona" (Top Area)

Wineries which produce wines from top locations will tend to mention the sectors or departments their wines come from. Therefore, wineries proudly mention that their wines are produced in the sector of Vistalba, or Agrelo, or Lunlunta, Las Compuertas, Major Drummond, Chacras de Coria, Ugarteche, or Perdriel (all these sectors are in the department of Lujan de Cuyo). They will do so because in Argentina the cognoscenti know that these are top producing areas.

However, to the average American consumer these designations would be considered meaningless. All they want to know is that the wine is from Mendoza. If you wanted to be really cool, you might want to mention the Lujan de Cuyo department or the Uco Valley central oasis on your label (in addition to Mendoza).

Salentein - Mendoza 
Agro-ecological conditions are virtually perfect, and it has been chosen by dozens of wineries that produce the most exquisite fine Argentine wines. The soil surface is constituted by alluvial fine sediments. Stony subsoil settle limoarcillosos sandy sediments.   His poverty is great organic, ensuring high-quality crops for processing of fine wines. The climate is mild, sunny and arid, low rainfall, with moderate winds and humidity to ensure the balance of sugar and acidity in musts and formation of polyphenols.

Oak barrels rest behind brick arched windows 
We may also refer to this region as the "land of Malbec" because this variety is closely related to its environment, presenting a bouquet and a quality unmatched in any other wine region in the world.

The alluvial soils are sandy loam and silt type sandy in the higher areas, as well as deep and stony.The more than 60,000 hectares irrigated with water channeled from the rivers Mendoza and Tunuyán offer varieties like Merlot, Malbec, Bonarda, Sangiovese, Ugni Blanc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Pedro Gimenez and others. Most are used for the production of musts, concentrated juices and fine wines of excellence.It is the largest producer of wines in the province.

Wine Tasting at Escorihuela Gascon 

With the rivers Tunuyán and Tupungato as axes, the Uco Valley has a number of characteristics similar to other areas that make up the central region but with characteristics that are favorable and adverse time for vineyards.The altitude of cultivated land between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level. The height produces large temperature variation between day and night allowing you to produce wines of excellent color suitable for long aging. Furthermore, it is responsible for the high acid levels, in some cases, must be controlled by the malolactic fermentation.Some of the reds more representative of recent times are from the Uco Valley, which has been growing geometrically foreign capital investments. The most common are red varieties: Malbec, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.White varieties are also grown with excellent results, including Rioja Torrontes, Semillon (white grape is the most cultivated), Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.


The Southern Mendoza oasis is the most southerly production of the province.The southern vineyards are located at lower altitude than the rest of the region. These slope gently eastward from 800 meters above sea level to 450.Irrigated by the river Atuel and Diamond, and 18 percent of the vineyards of the province, producing musts for table wines and the remarkable development of fine wines, rooted in calcareous alluvial soils. 

The thermal amplitude levels in the area favor the production of antocianinar also responsible for color in wines. Red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Bonarda are the starting points for obtaining wines of excellent visual body, which are gaining daily positions in international markets. It includes the departments of Las Heras, Guaymallén, part of Maipu and part of San Martin. 

O Fournier - Uco Valley 
O FOURNIER winery in Tupungato are a great place to visit. Great hosts (José Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier and his wife), great wines (some received 93 and 94 points from The Wine Advocate). The best food you will have in Mendoza. The owner´s Spanish wife is an outstanding chef. ( Nadia Haron ). 

Restaurant Urban 

The only similarity between the 2 regions is that they both revolve around wine ( a pretty important similarity!) Both are great places to visit. Wineries in the Mendoza area are spread out further apart. You won't have the bumper to bumper traffic like you do along the Silverado Trail in Napa.

Mendoza is Napa 30 or 40 years ago. But while money is pouring in, charming hotels are popping up, and wineries are going all-out architecturally, Mendoza remains very much an old-world experience. Therefore, visitors do need pre-planning to be sure that the wineries are open and reservations in advance are essential.

We design unique Wine Tasting Tours throughout Mendoza. Our Tours are ideal for people who have an interest in fine wine, but don't think of themselves as wine connoisseurs.

Visit vineyards and stunning architecture, offering indoor and outdoor seated tastings by friendly and knowledgeable local Guides.We will take you to at least four charming, hidden gem wineries.

Contact us for more information about Mendoza and our featured Wine Tours or book your wine tour and ensure availability.