Win­ing and di­nosaur­ing

The Guardian - Travel - - Travel -

Agustín’s face is a pic­ture of pride and glee as he points to the tro­phy his vine­yard won in 2012 for the best mal­bec in the world. “We are only a lit­tle vine­yard, from lit­tle San Juan, so we went down there [to a wine con­test in Men­doza] just to make up the num­bers,” he grins, and then thumbs his nose melo­dra­mat­i­cally at the op­po­si­tion. “But we stuck it to all those big shots from France and Italy and Men­doza!”

The last word is spat out like a mouth­ful of corked wine. To the cha­grin of the coun­try’s other wine re­gions, Men­doza has mar­keted it­self so suc­cess­fully in re­cent decades and be­come so syn­ony­mous with Ar­gen­tinian wine that “they pre­tend they in­vented mal­bec down there”.

For a small vine­yard such as Merced del Es­tero, 175km north of Men­doza near San Juan City, the vic­tory was like David putting one in the eye of Go­liath – not only for the vine­yard, but for San Juan prov­ince as a whole. This small desert area in west­ern Ar­gentina, near the Chilean bor­der, has none of the big, fancy bode­gas and so­phis­ti­cated wine tourism of Men­doza.

So at Merced del Es­tero – as at all the vine­yards I visit in San Juan – there’s no for­mal tour and tast­ing ses­sion (and no fee ei­ther). Here there’s only win­ery man­ager Agustín, who doesn’t speak English – the ge­nial owner, who does,

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How to do it

Ho­tels close to the to­tal-eclipse path are book­ing up fast in both coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly in Chile, where the route from the Pa­cific ocean to the Elqui Val­ley (fa­mous for its as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­to­ries) is ex­pected to be crowded.

Jour­ney Latin Amer­ica is run­ning a nine-day Jour­ney to the So­lar Eclipse 2019 hol­i­day from £2,600pp, in­clud­ing do­mes­tic flights, B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion, trans­fers and ex­cur­sions. In­ter­na­tional flights are ex­tra and start from around £600pp. Trav­elLo­cal is run­ning a 12-day trip, Starscapes and Land­scapes of Ar­gentina, in­clud­ing Buenos Aires, Men­doza and San Juan (from £3,070 ex­clud­ing flights). GM

Grape stuff San­ti­ago (right) with the writer at Graf­figna Yan­zon bodega Ball games Th­ese nat­u­ral stone balls at Ischigualasto were formed mil­lions of years ago

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