A Day in the Vineyards with Mendoza Wine Camp

It’s time to harvest the grapes in Argentina’s winegrowing capital. Thanks to Mendoza’s reputation as a world-class producer of Malbec – not to mention affordable prices and a stunning location at the base of the Andes – tourist numbers are up. But plenty of visitors arrive with the idea that they can go it alone, renting a car, exploring the country roads, stopping into tasting rooms on a whim. What they don’t know – and what can end up being a terrible disappointment – is that most wineries require reservations that are strictly enforced at the gates by security guards with clipboards. Mendoza is, in short, one destination where you’re better off leaving your plans to the professionals.

Kaiken vineyard

Kaiken vineyard – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

This week I tried out a few of the available options for personalized wine tours, starting with the one-day Lujàn De Cuyo tour with Mendoza Wine Camp. Adam, the company’s American co-founder, picked me up early at my hotel, ready with a car and driver, and a large case of bottled water – when you’re going to be drinking wine all day, as he wisely pointed out, staying hydrated is key. After picking up another traveler in the city, we were off into wine country, Adam giving an overview of the region as we made our way to the first of four wineries we were scheduled to visit.

Vine leaf

Vine leaf – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Picking up notes of jasmine and pineapple at Kaiken

I’d been to this lovely winery before (I like the name: kaikenes are wild geese that fly between Argentina and Chile.) But this week I remembered that one of the advantages of visiting wineries on a small, personalized tour – Mendoza Wine Camp never takes more than eight people at a time – is that the company can organize activities and work together with the winery to cater to visitors’ tastes. Since I had told Adam I was interested in wine education, he arranged for us to do a wine aromas lesson in conjunction with the tasting. I really liked this: instead of using a standard wine aromas kit with little bottles, Kaiken offered glasses filled with fresh fruit, flowers, and herbs to help us identify some of the aromas found in the wine.

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Kaiken vineyard – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Tasting wines at Kaiken

Tasting wines at Kaiken – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Mixing our own blends at Dante Robino

Next, at Dante Robino – after tasting the winery’s famous sparkling wine – Adam led us through an exercise I’d never tried before. Equipped with high school chemistry-style test tubes and small wine glasses for testing and experimenting, we were encouraged to create our own blends using the winery’s Bonarda, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was so much fun, and I learned something about how Bonarda interacts with other grapes.

Creating new blends

Creating new blends – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Eat, drink, be merry at Melipal

After all the wine we’d tried in the first half of the day, it was time for lunch at Melipal – with, you guessed it, more wine. Lunch in this wine region is generally a grand affair, and Melipal was no exception: our elegant table overlooked the leafy vineyard, the snowcapped Andes in the distance, as servers brought out course after course of exquisite modern Argentinian dishes paired with five different wines. The meal’s centerpiece was a perfectly grilled filet mignon served with wonderfully ripe baked tomatoes and chimichurri; I equally loved the dessert, a rich cheesecake with quince ice cream.

Melipal vineyard

Melipal vineyard – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Filet mignon with baked tomatoes and chimichurri

Filet mignon with baked tomatoes and chimichurri – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Toasting in the vineyard at Familia Cassone

Mendoza Wine Camp’s itinerary saved the best for last – and confirmed the notion that it pays off to book a tour with someone who has special access to the winery. When we arrived at Familia Cassone, a young sommelier named Emiliano was waiting for us at the edge of the vineyard, opening up a bottle of Obra Prima, a rosado made with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Sipping this refreshingly dry rosé among the grape vines, blue skies overhead, was a magnificent moment. Minutes later, we met the winemaker himself, Fede Cassone, and watched as workers unloaded grapes for the first stage of the winemaking process. Making wine is complicated, and satisfyingly rooted in old tradition: it was fitting that, at the end of the day of trying so many sophisticated wines, we would have a moment to see how it all begins.

Sorting grapes, Familia Cassone

Sorting grapes, Familia Cassone – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Sommelier Emiliano, Familia Cassone

Sommelier Emiliano, Familia Cassone – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Explore Argentina’s most famous wine region with LAN Airlines and its affiliates, offering daily nonstop flights from Miami to Buenos Aires, with connecting flights to Mendoza, plus daily connecting flights from New York and Los Angeles.

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