Sunday Afternoon in Wine Country: Mendoza, Argentina, January, 2007

Our bikes set off a bell as we entered the winery, the second of the two we'd visit in Argentina's Mendoza region. Brigitte and Philippe Subra were new in the wine businesses and one of the few places open to the public on Sundays.
It's a bad thing for tourism that most wineries close on Sunday, said the woman who rented us the bikes a few hours earlier. When my husband and I arrived at her house, she'd been shooting a garden hose so a handsome German shepherd could jump and bite the water. You know you're going to have a pleasant business transaction when you find the proprietress playing with her dog.

She sat David and me down at a patio table and marked a map for us to show which wineries were open on Sunday. A hotel's mistake made us spend so much of Saturday looking for new lodgings that we couldn't visit the vineyards. A white cat with black and orange spots sat under the table, a gray kitten on one side of her and an orange one on the other side.
I'd read that morning about the Mendoza vineyards attracting investment in the Economía section of the local paper, Los Andes. There was a page devoted to the wine industry. One article titled "Boom Bodeguero" said a hectare with very good vines could go for "u$s" and even as much as "u$s 60.000." Even with recent increases of as much as doubling prices, the vineyards in Mendoza stil are much cheaper than California or Europe, the article said.

Like An Adventure

Philippe Subra said he and his wife bought the vineyard in 2003"We began like an adventure," he told us during a paid tour of the small operation.
Subra had lived in Argentina in the 1990s. He had worked for Electricite de France during a craze for privatization of Latin American utilities. He and his wife decided to leave Toulouse to pursue the dream of running a vineyard in Argentina.
"There is a dynamic for the wine in Argentina at this time," he said.

An astronomy buff, Subra named the winery Carinae after the Carina constellation, seen in the southern hemisphere. We tried some of their red Malbec wines - with a bit of hesitation. We'd had some bad experiences with products from newer businesses offering samples of their products at the Virginia wine festival, near D.C. We're not sophisticated in our tastes, but we recognize vinegar when it's poured for us.
The Carinae wines were not at all like that. Instead, they were rich and mellow.

Italian Influence

We ordered two of the ham sandwiches sold at Carinae after our tasting. Philippe looked stricken when he saw the picnic table near the vineyard was full of dishes from the last guest. We said we didn't mind eating in the kitchen, which had a window looking out on the same view. A slightly chubby black Labrador, named Toulouse, lay near us, deep asleep.
The husband of the woman who rented us the bikes stopped by as we finished our tasting. He checked to make sure everything was okay with our cycles, while catching up with Subra.
Our $5-a-day rental bikes were fine. I asked him instead about the Mendoza seal, which featured two hands holding a cap on a stick. He said that was a symbol for the French, who had settled in the region. Mendoza had also drawn many Italian immigrants, including his ancestors.
I joked with him that it was easy to see the Italian influence in Mendoza. The food is so good and the drivers go so fast and wild. He laughed. On the bus ride back to central Mendoza that night, the driver turned to talk to a passenger sitting in front of us. It was a little disconcerting to see the driver's face turned fully in our direction as our bus bumped down the dusty road.
Philippe apologized as he told us we'd have to finish up our sandwiches. His next tour group was ready. I'd been savoring the prosciutto-like ham, good bread and olive oil. I made quick work of what remained.
The Carinae bell rang again as we were getting on our bikes.

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