Friday, March 16, 2007

Dominio del Plata Winery and Leaving Chile

Up early, check out, and we take a cab out to Dominio del Plata Winery to visit Sam where he works. This winery is about 30km out of Mendoza, just past Luján de Cuyo, at [GPS: 33.10948S, 68.89978W]. Funnily we know all the districts very well now after the beauty contest during the fiesta.

After bumping along a dirt road for a while, we pull up outside a beautiful winery with a large smart building surrounded by vines, with Aconcagua towering on the horizon.

Dominio del Plata Winery

Sam wanders out to greet us, grinning, and steers us inside, past the friendly reception where I leave my slightly out-of-place backpack, and we troop straight into the main chamber, which is dominated by the large silver vats, to start the tour!

Most of the wine is in here

Outside, the grapes arrive in trucks, most being brought from further afield (but still locally of course) than the vines immediately next to the building, and are stripped of stems etc, then squashed and pumped into the vats. Now is peak time for the fruit coming in, with the white grapes a little earlier, and other varieties coming in round about now, plus or minus a few weeks.

Piles of sugary fruit rolls in

They won't notice a few going missing

The really good wines are oak conditioned

As we learnt previously at Concha y Toro, both French and American oak barrels are used in the conditioning process. The French oak is denser and more expensive. Here they seem to use a mix of the two. Sam believes they over-oak some of their wines. Apparently every couple of months they take the wine out of the barrels back into a silver tank, to test acidity etc, before rebarrelling. Interestingly here they also use another technique, of oak staves being placed in the actual steel vats, to oak condition without using barrels. Sam thinks this is a bit of a nightmare to actually do - there is all sorts of intricate equipment to hold the oak in place.

Can this be true? Did I fall into a vat and go to heaven?!

There are various activities going on around us. Some tanks are being cleaned, here they use caustic soda, then rinse, rather than detergent. Apparently there is no issue with using water here too, given the amount running off Aconcagua and her foothalls.

We try some of the wine early on in the fermentation process, when it is still really sweet, despite having about a quarter of the sugar it started with. Then some further along and some finished product. The wines are bottled under various labels, the best being Susana Balbo, the owner and Ben Marco, her husband's father (I think).

Could I smuggle a box out under my belly?

Next we head upstairs to the very smart tasting suite. As this isn't an official tour, we sneak in between two large corporate client groups just for a couple of minutes. The whole suite is very tastefully decked out - it is obvious that this winery is not short of money!

Here are some we prepared earlier

Keep your hands off my wine

Is gooood

Time to go, we decided not to tip the tour guide

So thanks to Sam for a marvellous tour, which although it was relatively quick, was far more personal and involved than the Concha y Toro one. Sam's next job is in California. I'll have to check how many air-miles I'll have left when I get back to the UK!

Bye bye Chile

Back into town, then it's time to leave Jina and head back to Chile for my flight to Easter Island. It's sad to part, we've had a couple of weeks of hanging out and travelling together. Still, it's a small world, and I'm sure we'll see each other again, especially as she's as travel-mad as me!

So, off to Chile. Bus up my favourite Ruta 7, swinging back and forth making it difficult to drink my mate, passing the entry into the Aconcagua national park that we emerged from only a couple of days ago. The border sits at a pass in the Andes, and the Argentine way of getting up is slightly more gradual than the Chilean, which is an enormous stack of switchbacks, good fun with the enormous quantity of freight heading across this border. They have combined border stations on this road, so last time coming into Argentina, we went through the Argentinian building only, getting our Chilean exit stamp there too. This time a few km down the road, past a derelict narrow-gauge railway, covered almost all the way in sheds, presumably because of the snow they get here in the winter, we hit the smaller and seemingly more chaotic Chilean building. Argentine stamp first, then to Chile. As usual, Chilean immigration is a total farce. He takes my piece of paper with my Argentine stamp and stamps that, ignoring the form I've filled in for Chile. Oh well, reusing paper can't be a bad thing, even though it has old dates, approval for entry into Argentina etc.

Then customs. My goodness. This is the real logjam. We can see the bus in front of us in the office. A Japanese couple are holding the system up because they have all sorts of food and "animal products", like mate tea cups made with a cow's hoof. Finally they're out and we're in. I've nervously ticked the "I have animal or veg products" box on my customs declaration because I have 2kg of mate tea in my bag. Is it allowed? I have no idea. When the chap comes along, I confess, expecting prison or a hefty fine, but I am just asked "nada mas?" - no more? Nope. Okay then. I then get hauled out of the queue when they baggage scan my hand luggage. Why this time? I admit the tea again, but this guy is not interested in that, he wants to check out my laptop, admiring its features with his colleague. Another nice waste of time.

Back on the bus and another long unexplained wait. We've now been on the bus 5 hours and have managed about 150km from Mendoza. How I love Chilean border crossings! Apparently the bus was stuck at the border 4 1/2 hours last Sunday, so I suppose I should be grateful?

And worse, when I get to the airport, I realise that my cunning plan to spend the night on the ultra-comfy sofas in the business lounge has all gone to pot - Easter Island is of course Chilean, so it's a domestic flight! No lounge! So I snooze on the floor, before finding a weak wifi signal in a remote office area of the airport, thanks Delta lounge! Plane is slightly late but business class is quite empty, and has just been refurbished with latest inflight stuff, so we have a good sized screen, a big seat that massages! although the foot rest is really uncomfortable for anyone over about 5'8! It has the LAN normal power point in the seat, good work LAN, big brownie points, and an ethernet port, live, though this doesn't appear to have DHCP on it, and a usb port, perhaps for a full-sized keyboard.

Nice and quiet

I watched The Queen - I have to say I sympathise with Philip (!), then Casino Royale, though due to an apparent bug on the system it kept stopping mid-movie and I never saw the end.. Good to enjoy all this before finding a nice cheap place to slum it on Easter Island!

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