Wining and dinosauring
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