South America Blog
About this blog
Wayne Bernhardson is the author of Moon Handbooks to Buenos Aires, Chile, Argentina, and Patagonia. Here he shares his vast knowledge of South America and its people.
- The Papal Cumbia
- The Uruguayan Sacraments: Tango & Mate
- Taxing the Tourist: Argentina's AFIP Aims Low
- Fortress Falklands: A Book Review
- Pope Argentinus I, The Musical: Ragtime Meets Tango
- Credit Where Credit Is Undue?
- ¿Adios Hugo?
- When "No" Is A Positive
- Chile and Its "Crazies"
- The Oscars: A Post Mortem, So to Speak
- Sacrificing the Atacama? A Chilean View of Dakar
- Chilean Oscar Faceoff? "No" v. "Kon-Tiki"
- Friday Digest: Southern Cone Nuggets
- Dancing in the Mud? The Andean Aftermath
- Floods & Mud: Summer Storms Hit the Andes
Wine & Dinos in Patagonia
When foreigners think of Patagonia, their first thoughts are usually of a remote region in the antipodes, where the winds blow and the snow falls. Few think of grapes and even fewer of wine grapes but, in reality, grapes grow as far south as Punta Arenas (Chile), Estancia Sara (in Argentine Tierra del Fuego), and the Falkland Islands.
That’s a little misleading, because the vines in all those destinations produce table grapes indoors, as they do in the winter garden restaurant at Punta Arenas’s Hotel José Nogueira (where a net keeps the fruit from falling onto diners' tables). Nevertheless, wine grapes have been grown, with commercial success, for more than a century in northern Argentine Patagonia - Bodega Humberto Canale, half an hour east of the provincial capital of Neuquén, celebrated its centennial in 2009.
In fact, the Patagonian wine industry is expanding rapidly with the new San Patricio del Chañar district, less than an hour northwest of Neuquén. Having made The New York Times’ list of “31 Places to Go in 2010,” Chañar figures to grab even more attention in the coming years, thanks to bodegas such as Bodega del Fin del Mundo, Bodega NQN, and Bodega Familia Schroeder. The latter two also have fine restaurants, but Schroeder is the only one that can boast an in situ dinosaur fossil, discovered during the construction excavations.
Neuquén province is a hotbed of paleontology and especially dinosaur discoveries - so much so that Schroeder has named one of its lines “Saurus” - and there’s a triangle of paleontological museums at Lago Barreales (west of Chañar), Plaza Huincul (west of Neuquén), and Villa El Chocón (southwest of Neuquén). In theory, it would be feasible to visit most of the wineries and museums in a day, but that would be extremely rushed, and two days would be desirable.
Meanwhile, Chañar isn’t the only novelty on the Argentine wine scene. Near the town of Sierra de la Ventana, one of the few places in Buenos Aires province where bedrock rises above the legendary Pampas, the new Bodega Saldungaray has planted nine hectares with a diversity of grapes that includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Available only in southwestern Buenos Aires province, these are young wines - the vineyards were planted only six years ago - that aren’t yet ready for export, and the winery doesn’t really have a specialty. Still, it's worth a visit, especially with free tours and tasting during the day, a restaurant that’s open until midnight, and nightly tastings, paired with food, under the guidance of its sommelier.