Surprise, surprise, more wine tasting was next on the agenda. This time in and around the Calchaquí Valley, in the north-west of Argentina.
According to wine gurus, the area ticks all the boxes for making amazing wine: Good soil, high altitude, lots of hot sunshine during the day and cold temperatures at night. Not only does this combination of factors make the wine tasty, it also makes it good for you, apparently reducing the chances of getting heart disease. So, we can officially say this bout of wine tasting was for medicinal purposes.
The center of this wine growing region is the beautiful little town of Cafayate, surrounded by vineyards at 1,700m above sea level or higher.
The first stop on this medicinal voyage was to ‘Domingo Molinos’ for a morning wine tasting. As they say in Argentina, ‘por qué no’. Then followed by lunch at ‘Piattelli’, accompanied with their wines. Whilst Piattelli’s vineyards are very young, and their wine is not much to write home about yet, the restaurant’s food and its view are the undisputed best in the valley.
The following day we headed for Bodega Colomé which, in contrast is the oldest vineyard in the world. Even more impressive, one of their vineyards stands at a world-record-altitude of 3,111m; some 2,000m higher than its nearest European rival, producing wine that is extremely good for you as a result.
Owned by a Swiss billonnaire, Donald Hess (who also has vineyards in California, South Africa and Australia), it is an extraordinary place. Donald and Ursula Hess first visited the Calchaquí Valley in 1998, purchasing Colome in 2001. Since then new winery facilities with the latest technology and equipment have been built, together with a boutique hotel and an exclusive art gallery filled with one-off pieces by American Artist James Turrell. What makes all of this extraordinary is that Colome is hidden high in the Calchaquí Valley; a good 4 hours drive from the closest town, and 20km down a death-trap of a dirt road.
At the center of the Museum is a perfectly square courtyard framing a 15-by-15-foot square aperture in the roof through which visitors view the sky. Known as a ‘Skyscape’, it is apparently the largest of its kind in the world. With the subtle changes in the colour and intensity of the artificial lights surrounding the aperture orchestrated by Turrell, your perception of the sky changes as you lie back on cushions on the ground and view the sunset.
Returning down the dirt road after sunset, after another hard day of sampling art and wine, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a bit of R & R at the beautiful Hacienda de Molinos for a day or two, before jumping back on the bike.
The Valley is home to some quite extraordinary scenery as well, in particular the aptly named ‘Quebrada de las Flechas’ or Gorge of Arrows and the Los Cardones National Park, which is home to millions of cacti, even if we had to do some extreme off-roading to visit the latter.
It’s amazing what you end up seeing when you don’t start the day wine tasting/battling heart disease!