Valle de Uco, or the ‘Uco Valley’, has over the last decade become the great center of Argentinian Wines. Here, beneath the glimmering sun of the province of Mendoza, between the hills to the east and the snowy Andes to the west, is a flat valley filled with grapes. If not for the carefully planted trees around the impressively big vineyards, the entire valley would be an ocean of well-ordered grapes. Architects, international wine business and century-old traditions are gathered in the same valley to produce the immense amount of grapes that have put Mendoza on the map.
To me, this entire trip is double-edged and ambivalent: on one hand curiosity and amazement, on the other ideology and criticism. Since I became an active abstainer of alcohol more than 5 years ago, I’ve regarded the red or white liquid as somewhat of an enemy, the symbol against whom I’m fighting. So many difficulties my friends went through, because the wine played an important part of their parents’ lives, so many problems, injuries, injustices and shattered families these simple beverages carry on their conscience. To visit the source of all of this, the modern farms where harvest, fermentation and wine-tasting are at the center of the process, poses an enormous challenge to me. What do I do now? How do I react?
I look out over the vines of O Fournier’s vineyard, an aesthetically beautiful state-of-the-art facility where harvest is taking place as we speak. Hundreds of skilled hands pick the tiny clusters of dark-blue fruits, stack them in tiny white boxes that are quickly transported to the main building. Here some ten women of different ages await them, to manually sort away leaves, twigs or branches, while the grapes pass the big stainless machinery. High above, the airplane-shape roof makes sure the ramp is always filled with a breeze. The scent of fresh fruit and the surrounding summer heat is inviting and reminds me of beautiful summers back home. So many thousands of liters of grapes are quickly squashed and poured down gigantic tanks of around 15 000 liters each. A man squishes the dark-red sludge from a top-opened tank nearby. He carries a long, silvery-colored pole he uses as if he was pushing a shovel into the ground.
With the image of the vineyard in front of me, I realize how far away from my reality I’ve come. Here, wine isn’t about tax levels, about addiction or problems I’m used to discuss. Instead, it’s about completing a job, create a tasting experience or explain to tourists like myself how this process works. Here, the wine is sacred, and to me on the verge of repulsing. I know very well what these wines do in the hands of those who use them. I have seen what comes from this almost cult-like admiration, from wine-tasting on national television to the suburban family dinner or the regular Wednesday bottle of wine. In front of me I see the shattered dreams accompanied by a well-aged Chardonnay.
But on the other hand, the nature out here is so beautiful, the wine is a source of pride in every Argentinian soul and the cultivation of grapes a laboratory-precise knowledge. My ambivalence is complete and when the tour is eventually over, I leave the vineyard more perplexed than when I got there. The weight is shifting and I’m almost falling. I don’t know how to address this, how to deal with all of this and it leaves me in a state of resignation. What now?
Meanwhile, the grapes slowly keep growing in the most popular wine district of Argentina.