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Foreigners are wading into Argentina's wine industry.
Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs are promoting “wine lifestyle retreats” and selling private homes in communities tucked within the vineyards.
“Mendoza is Jackson Hole with vineyards, but better than Napa Valley and Bordeaux, and with the weather of Palm Springs,” said Stephen Vletas, a Wyoming native who founded the Southern Cross Land Company in 2003. Vletas has sold property in Mendoza to customers from the United States, Canada, Russia, China and South Africa, and expects he’ll continue to attract foreign investment in Mendoza for years to come.
“You can live here for a quarter or a third of the cost of other wine regions. And you’re living up against the Andes Mountains. There’s any kind of outdoor activity you want. It’s not just the vineyards,” Vletas said.
Indeed, Mendoza is increasingly popular among foodies who are coming to dine in the new restaurants and hotels that continue to pop up in leafy neighborhoods like Maipu, Chacras de Coria and Lujan de Cuyo.
“Argentines used to produce wine just for ourselves, but now we are exporting it, and we are very happy with the results," said Cecilia Diaz Chuit, owner of the Cavas Wine Lodge, a luxury hotel that offers alfresco dining under the stars and unique spa treatments like the Crushed Malbec Body Scrub or the Bonarda Bath. "That is what is causing this buzz, and causing people to come to Mendoza to see for themselves."
A recent gathering — called the “Masters of Food & Wine South America” — brought some of the world’s top chefs and sommeliers together in Mendoza for a weekend of gastronomic gluttony. Modeled after a similar event held in Carmel, Calif., for more than 20 years, the Masters featured meals prepared by Michelin-starred chefs from France, Spain and Ireland, as well as other renowned Argentine, Brazilian, Peruvian, Japanese and American chefs, including Benjamin Ford, owner of Ford’s Filling Station in Los Angeles and son of actor Harrison Ford.
“We don’t really get a chance to drink that much Argentine wine in the United States,” Ford said. “The quality of the wine here is something that I haven’t experienced before…and I was very pleasantly surprised."
It’s a sentiment often repeated about Argentine wines, especially when it comes to cost. Like most industries right now, winemaking around the world is affected by the global economic crisis. Many say the high quality and low cost of Argentina's wines are an advantage.
“People in the U.S. who used to drink a $150 Napa Cabernet are now drinking a $50 Malbec from Argentina,” said Jose Manuel Ortega of O. Fournier Vineyards. “That leaves them $100 in their pocket, or two more bottles in their cellar. That’s not bad.”
Frank Ansel agreed. For now, he views his Argentina winemaking project as a hobby, but doesn’t rule out someday trying to turn a profit.
“If it turns into a business, great. Either way, I don’t know anywhere else in the wine world where you can get this kind of value, and be able to play like I’m going to play!”
(Watch a video of an Argentinian vineyard.)
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