During my years of nomadism, my life long friend Mariana became a sommelier and a wine and gastronomy writer.
When she found out I was coming to Argentina in August 2022, she organized a trip to show me her new world. In order to visit some of the most interesting corners of this marvelous scene, we’d make it a work trip. She’d be the writer and I’d be the photographer, which meant, we’d be exactly ourselves.
So we spent 5 days in Mendoza visiting vineyards and talking to wine makers, chefs, sommeliers and all sorts of passionate people who devote their days to conversing with the Andes mountain range and bringing the best parts of the conversation back to the table. Our mission was to bring our conversations with them to the larger public in the form of images and words.
Spoiler alert: it went really well.
The most appropriate HQ
We could have stayed at an airbnb or a hotel but Mariana and I share a life long and many times tested-and-proven preference for authentic, homy and lived in environments. That’s why she decided we should stay at the simple but cozy house in a small scale vineyard of one of her friends. This meant we had dogs and cats to care for, boxes and boxes of untagged wine to taste piled up in the living room, a real kitchen to use whenever we still had room for a bite after long days of first class appetizers and courses and, most importantly, a fire pit to sit by and talk life over a few glasses of wine. Out the window, ever-present, ever elegant, the Andes mountain range would reveal itself under all the different lights of day, reminding us of where we were.
The world’s best
Zuccardi Valle de Uco was chosen the world’s best vineyard 3 years in a row. The well established family company was started by the grandfather of Sebastián, with whom we spent about 5 hours walking around the vines and sucked in by the cold darkness of the cellar, tasting wines and the exquisite lunch menu at their Valle de Uco vineyard restaurant while talking constantly and passionately about wine, soil, family and his home, Mendoza:
“When you wake up in Mendoza, before even opening your eyes, you know where the mountain range is. We live all our life with this wall to the west that means everything to us. We are at a high desert that is swamped with light. That is unique. The highlands of the world are cloudy and rainy. Our wines communicate that: a fresh, yet intense expression. Our identity comes from making wines from the Cordillera de los Andes. It’s our idiosyncracy and cosmovision, we’re mountain people.”
We also got to sit down with Pepe, Sebastian’s father and the director of the company and ask him about the continuos success and growth of the company in all its different lines and projects, the most recent of which are conducted by his children:
“I don’t believe it’s about the new generations repeating what the older have done, because it’s no challenge for a young person to do what’s already been done. And to me, it’s wonderful to be able to be part of my children’s projects. Life gives us the experience and skill to understand and add to what others are doing, and not the other way around. That cult to the founder, to whoever came first, is toxic and doesn’t help.”
The article Mariana wrote and illustrated with the photos I took was published on the Lugares magazine, the Sunday magazine by La Nación newspaper, one of the oldest and biggest in the country.
The article about Zuccardi on the Lugares Magazine by La Nación newspaper. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/revista-lugares/zuccardi-la-mejor-bodega-del-mundo-eso-del-culto-al-fundador-es-toxico-para-los-jovenes-no-es-nid24092022/
Women among vines
Another article that Mariana was crafting during our trip took us to 3 different restaurants where women have taken on the challenge of curating eating experiences that highlight the taste, authenticity and identity of the local wines. Listening to and photographing these women was an absolute pleasure. Each with her own unique background and path that brought them to their current missions, there was a common trait: passion and an emotional connection to the food on their tables.
“I am a pilgrim cook, not just a traveling cook… The pilgrim moves with a purpose, carrying a holy grial […] I identify with the idea of ‘feeding’. It’s different, I not only cook, I feed, I nurture. Sometimes we overlook the importance of someone sitting at our table, it’s an act of trust…”
Patricia Courtois, 5 Suelos Restaurant, Durigutti Winemakers.
“I am 38 years old and I’ve been in gastronomy since I was 18. I know what it’s like to not have weekends, work long nights and only come home at 4, 5 am. The vineyard gives me an opportunity that is more compatible with being a mom.[…] I’m moved by the fact that my grandma is being represented in high cuisine, she was the one that taught me to love gastronomy”
Flavia Amad di Leo, Osadía de crear, Susana Balbo wines.
“We don’t have a classic menu with entrées, mains and desserts but a choice of small plates. We apply the method of preserves and we’re starting our collection of ferments to have vegetables all year round. This opens up our creativity because we try to rotate and change.”
Camila Cerezo Pawlak, Ruda.
The article about women chefs working in Mendoza on the paper edition of the Marie Clare magazine.
A moldy secret
One of the perks of hanging out with landscape-flavor alchemists all week is getting in the loop of the most exclusively delicious things happening in town. That’s how we came to tasting the small scale production of author cheeses by a lawyer from Buenos Aires who decided to set up a moldy den in his backyard to be able to produce the flavors he missed from his home town. The best kept secret cheeses in Mendoza didn’t even want to get published because the production is so small he can only produce upon request of the most savvy wine/gastronomy people around him. It’s no wonder he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand that would come from actual advertising. After all… is there any better ally to wine than a delicious slice of lovingly curated cheese?