Richard Siddle: Argentine Adventures, Part Two

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Famous last words...having said I was sure I would be back in Mendoza city one day it did not expect to be walking back in to the Diplomatic Hotel some 14 hours later.

 

But for the second time in our brief sojourn in South America we are scuppered by the vagaries of the Argentine transport system and contacted, whilst on the way to the airport via the amazingly efficient team at R&R Teamwork back in the UK, that our plane had been cancelled. And that we were on the 6am flight the following day.

 

They could give Thomas Cook a run for their money with a service like that.

 

Thanks to Wines of Agentina we were holed up for another day at the five star Diplomatic, complete with an upgrade to boot for the inconvenience. So it could have been a lot worse.

 

It also gave me the chance to catch my breath and venture out in to this bustling, agricultural-based city really for the first time. Whilst Mendoza won't trouble your credit card company too much with the lure of boutique shops and shopping malls its charm really lies in just meandering around the tree laden grid system of roads with every day locals going around their business.

 

That's when the whole place has not packed up for the best part of the day for an afternoon long siesta.

 

It was also time to reflect on what has been a wonderful first venture into South America, with first the efficiency and splendour of the Errazuriz winery opening and tour of the Aconcagua valley in Chile, to the whirlwind introduction to Argentina and its wineries and winemakers.

 

This really is a country that seeps wine from every pore. If they say the French have wine in their blood, then the Argentines have it coming out in their sweat. Everyone is a wine expert here, with a view on the best place to grow Malbec and why Bonarda is really the best grape to be found in these parts.


For someone who drinks more than his fair share of Argentine wine back home, it has been a humbling education that I have only been literally scratching the surface of wines from this country (and equally in Chile) and, like with any wine producing country, you only get a sense of its scale, beauty and potential by doing the hard miles and seeing the wineries and landscape for yourself.

Things in perspective

I have also enjoyed a humbling experience in the art, value and importance of journalism with a trip to meet a winemaker with a difference - David Smith, former ITN foreign correspondent, press secretary to Koffi Annan and now director of the United Nations in Argentina.


David also happens to be living his dream and growing vines and living, when he is not helping to keep this part of the world safe, at the footsteps of the Andes in Consulta in the Uco Valley.


The story not only of his colourful life covering the war zones around the world for the last 30 years, but now his new world as a winemaker in Argentina is captured in the aptly named book, Dream On, available in all good bookstores, and no doubt some rubbish ones too.


It made great reading through my summer holiday and it is more than a little strange to find myself as his guest, living the dream, as it were for myself, only a couple of months later.


We arrived another full packed day of visits and tastings just as the sun was disappearing behind the Andes which literally sit just over the roof of David's house, nestled in the middle of his vines. This is winemaking with a difference, for not only does the house have the obligatory asado and grill area it also boast a tidy swimming pool and its own mini three hole golf course with its expertly kept greens.


It is home for him and his wife, Sonia (also a face of TV news past as CNN newscaster, ITN and Channel 4 presenter)) when they are not covering and helping to manage global affairs in Washington and Buenos Aires.


What makes our visit even more memorable is that it happens to coincide with a reunion between David and one of his contemporary war correspondents, the intrepid, award winning cameraman and photographer, Sebastian Rich and his family. It is the first time they have seen each other since they were together in war-stricken Beirut in 1983/84 and I just happen to be there with my notebook full of wine quotes.


But we are treated to a wonderful evening of stories, memories and unforgettable trips down a memory lane that involves being shot at, injured, hit by mortar fire, kidnapped and somehow staying alive in the likes of El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, Beirut and Lebanon.


Interspersed with those experiences are tales of life at ITN and putting stories together for the 10 O Clock news with some eyebrow raising revelations about some household names that I am not privy to repeat here.


It all sounds like scenes from Drop the Dead Donkey, but then that is not surprising as apparently much of the detail for that was based on the exploits of the ITN team
of that time.


It certainly puts the rigours of a Wines of Argentina press trip into perspective. But reminds me why I was attracted to the world of journalism in the first place and to be in the presence of the kind of reporters and beyond brave correspondents that inspired me all those years ago, was truly an experience I will savour.

 

Nearly as much as the wonderfully balanced Malbec, SonVida, that David has been able to produce from his 25 or so hectares, which we enjoyed throughout the evening.

 

David concedes his wine adventure is arguably even more difficult than the one he has been on, but he is already making a similar impact. His vines are situated in one of the most sought after areas in Consulta and he has had as his mentor the rather helpful figure of Nicolas Catena.

 

But he has had to prove himself and not only after years of graft does he supply Catena with all his grapes, many are now ending up in some of Catena's finest blends. And thanks to the support of Philip Crozier his own wine can be found nestled nicely on the Gaucho wine list back in the UK.

 

We have finally now made it to Buenos Aires, arriving just as many of the locals were making it home from the night before. It is a chance to fine tune the batteries and return to old favourites like Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to try make sense of this amazing city in 48 hours.

 

We happen, more by luck than judgement, to be situated in the heart of Palermo Soho, one of the coolest, apparently, places to be in Buenos Aires. Already a day has flown by and we have only discovered a dozen blocks of boutique shops, cafes, restaurants that are reminiscent of Greenwich Village or its Soho namesake in New York.

 

Today is Sunday and that means antique markets in San Telmo and Recoleta and hopefully the chance to get some gifts for the kids and memories to take home.

 

But there is nothing like being here to experience them for yourself.

 

* Thanks to all the winemakers and wineries for their time and enthusiasm and for making us feel so at home, just sorry we are not able to take more wines home with us. Also to the whole team at Errazuriz for their spectacular efforts in Chile - it is still being talked about by competing wineries in Argentina. R&R Teamwork and Andrew Maidment and Wines of Argentina.

To find more about David Smith's vineyard then go to  www.sonvidawine.com and to get a copy of his book go to www.quartetbooks.co.uk.

You can catch up on the jaw dropping work of Sebastian Rich at www.sebastianrich.com or see footage of a recent typical excursion in Afghanistan which is up for special journalism award in London this week at http://www.rorypecktrust.org/page/3203/Sebastian+Rich

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