Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Days of Wine and Rubble

In the Southern Cone countries, autumn is approaching, and that means the wine harvest season - March is the best time to visit the vineyards of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It also marks a change of pace - with January/February high season over, travel throughout the region feels more leisurely and, what’s more, prices fall gradually until they recover a bit in July’s winter holidays. Personally, March is my favorite month to travel in the region.

Of course, in my case, that may also have to do with the fact that I’m not facing any immediate deadline. Within a few days, as soon as I finish up the manuscript of Moon Handbooks Patagonia, I will spend the rest of the month heading north as I begin research on the new edition of Moon Handbooks Chile. The lack of deadline will be especially welcome in Chile’s Mediterranean heartland, where the vineyard zone so closely overlaps the area battered by the massive earthquake of February 27, 2010.

In terms of research, the earthquake presents a unique challenge. In the course of updating every edition of my guidebooks, I have to double-check lots of information on the ground to see what’s changed since my last visit - a shingled Jesuit church in Chiloé may have stood for the past 200-plus years, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t burn to the ground in the interim. This month, though, it will be a particular challenge to assess the damage in cities like Concepción, Talca and the Colchagua valley town of Santa Cruz, not to mention surrounding villages (Santa Cruz's 19th-century parish church, pictured above, is a thing of the past). Some sights and services, of course, will be gone, others will still be in the process of rebuilding, and others will have escape almost untouched. Still, it promises to be a challenge, and the next edition’s coverage will differ significantly from the current one - which came out only a few months before the quake.

A Small Earthquake in (Northern) Chile
Speaking of quakes, there was a 6.2 event on Saturday near the village of Putre in northernmost Chile, in the Andes east of the city of Arica, near the borders of Bolivia and Perú. My friend Barbara Knapton, who runs her Birding Alto Andino nature tours out of Putre (pictured above), says it was no big deal: “[I]t lasted about a minute. I did finally go out of the house, but it never really got worse, the electric poles were waving, the wires too, but there was no dust in the quebradas, which happens frequently when it's bad enough for the rocks to roll down. Nothing fell off of shelves…”

Uruguay's Wine Festival
Meanwhile over the Andes and across the River Plate, Uruguay’s third annual Festival de la Vendimia (wine harvest festival) will take place this Saturday in Montevideo, nearby Canelones, and Maldonado (near the high-powered resort of Punta del Este). A dozen wineries that market themselves under the label Los Caminos del Vino (Wine Roads) will open their doors to locals and tourists alike for tours, tastings, live music and asados (barbecues) on their grounds. One of those is Establecimiento Juanicó, Uruguay's largest producer, pictured below.

I’ve written several other entries on Uruguayan wines, which are a little-known pleasure outside their home country and in a few other areas privileged to have access to their signature Tannat and other more standard varietals. Suffice it to say that, for anyone in Buenos Aires, this weekend would be an ideal time to take the high-speed ferry to Montevideo and visit a winery or two on Saturday, take the bus to Colonia del Sacramento Sunday and spend the night there, and return to the Argentine capital by catamaran after Monday lunch. All these destinations get ample coverage in my new fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Since you're now leaving Patagonia, I thought I'd give you a couple of comments after spending a few days in Valparaiso in late November:

-I enjoyed staying in Casa Aventura. It's one of the most social hostels I've ever stayed in, and my single room was quite comfortable. Breakfast was filling, with crusty rolls and kiwi and raspberry jam. They should look into butter, though... I also enjoyed the day trip to the Casablanca Valley, Isla Negra and Quintay, although you were right that the Indomita winery was nothing special.

-People at the hostel were very high on a place named Bar Ritual. I really enjoyed their wine/fruit cocktails, and thought it had a nice, international atmosphere.

-A fair number of ascensors weren't working- I think I tried to use Esperitu Santo and Florida and found they were closed. I had to hike up to Cerro Bellavista and I was too exhausted to go to Pablo Neruda's house.

-I watched Anthony Bourdain's clips from Valparaiso before going and tried to find the places from the show. Sibaritico's branch in Valparaiso was cramped but the hot dog was good. I couldn't find the seafood restaurant in the market where he ate, but I think it would be nice to have tips on where to get some great seafood at a modest price.

-I had a wonderful evening at Cafe Vinilo. The long "table d'hote", as a French lawyer called it, was ideal for single travelers. I chatted with my German med student friend, a couple of astronomers and a French IP lawyer specializing in wine. Truly a wonderful evening, and my Spanish even improved. The olive mousse was definitely worth trying.

-The Hotel Brighton had a wonderful patio and surprisingly reasonable prices. I enjoyed the pumpkin-razor clams soup with fried cheese.

-I was pointed to the Casino J Cruz for chorillana by Chilean friends in Canada as a must-try. It was a bit much for one person, but I'm still glad I went.

Hope this helps!

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