With each passing course Sebastian, the sommelier, poured us larger and larger glasses. By the end of the meal, each course involved a small amount of food, and one or two full glasses of wine. This, along with the outstanding food, was one reason we loved the tasting the menu and wine pairing at Butterfly. The second reason was that Sebastian set into motion our most “Amazing Race”ish adventure to date. It began with our mentioning that our trip back to Buenos Aires took us through Neuquén, the southern-most wine making region in Argentina, for a final go-round of our favorite Argentine activity: wine-tasting.
As we were leaving dinner Sebastian handed us a cocktail napkin with the name Hans Vinding-Diers and an email address. We were to email this man, send Sebestian’s regards, and see if he would be able to give is a tour of either (or both!) of his award-winning wineries: Bodega Noemìa and Bodega Chacra. He also mentioned that one of the wineries had a guest-house that was occasionally available for visitors.
|One more wine-tasting|
Putting our doubts to rest on the good vibe we got from Sebestian, in person, and Hans, over email, we accepted Hans’s gracious offer and wrote him that we looked forward to meeting him, and asked for some basic information - like how to reach the guesthouse.
The reply was odd. Rather than give us an address, we were told to go to a particular parilla (steakhouse), the best in the small town where the winery was located, and when we were finished eating to have the restaurant call Oscar, who would meet us there, to take us to the guesthouse. The adventure had begun.
|Jesse fighting with the bittersweet|
emotions of being served mashed potatoes
(dream meal) by Via Bariloche, a bus company.
Ultimately, she took down the whole tray.
We set the alarm early in the six-person dorm room (three bunk beds) that we had to ourselves, in order to get to the airport, rent our car, and then get on the wine route.** Getting to the wine-route required exactly one turn after we left the airport. Actually, according to the local government it is the "Route of Wine, Apples and Dinosaurs - A route that combines the smells and flavours of this land, with an exciting palaeontological experience." Anyway, we only missed that turn once. During the day we enjoyed tastings at NQN (especially because it was free) and then had a delicious pre-tasting lunch at Familia Schroder. We shared one 3-course tasting menu that was probably enough food for three people. At lunch we enjoyed some very large glasses of wine, including a few complimentary tastings during the meal!
|Tasting at Saurus (Familia Schroder)|
In the café we began our internet search for the town of General Roca. This seemingly straight-forward task took an interesting turn when our Google Maps search revealed that there was no town, just a single country road making its way through what appeared to endless fields. Switching to a satellite view on the map revealed a very different picture. The town, sprawled from both sides of the “highway” with small communities, unnamed streets, and even more dirt roads. And all we had to do was find a man called Oscar, who would meet us at our dinner location and escort us to our accommodations for the night.
|Day one took north along route 7|
Day two took us east, on the road towards Buenos Aires
Because it was only 3 or 4 in the afternoon we thought we would rather first go to the guesthouse and relax before having dinner at 10 or 11 (we had really embraced the culture). This plan made sense before we knew where the guesthouse was, and how one gets there. Eventually Oscar and I had a meeting of the minds. We would drive to his house, instead of the restaurant, and then proceed directly to the guesthouse. All we needed to do was find his house. After making Oscar repeat his address for me a half of a dozen times, I was about 50% confident that I had the correct number and street. But remember, Google Maps, only showed one road going though the town of General Roca, while the satellite view gave us a much more daunting, if not accurate, picture.
With no other ideas of how to reach Oscar’s house, we finished our coffees, piled back into the car and heading towards General Roca, hopeful that someone would be able to help us along the way. As we pulled out of Neuquen, Jesse, on a lark plugged the address into our GPS. And, shockingly, it knew it! We were saved without making one stop for direction! Supremely pleased with ourselves (and our GPS) we drove the along the single road Google Maps knew about, until our GPS had us turn off the paved road into one of the countless, unpaved housing developments in General Roca.
As you might expect, it did not turn out as easy as we hoped. As we winded up and down the dirt roads, with houses in various stages of construction all around us, the GPS seemed to be lost. We were certainly lost, and as we got closer and closer to the “final destination” point on the GPS map, it was clear that we were being taken to the middle of a field. The road into the field was totally overgrown and impassable. And there was clearly no house, no winery-manger, and no Oscar to be found there.
Again at a loss, we were somewhere in the middle of General Roca, possibly close to Oscar’s house, but equally likely nowhere near it, and we had no phone, no internet, no nothing. We didn’t even know Oscar’s last name. The prospect of asking someone for help finding Oscar’s house seemed rather low, in fact, asking anyone for any help would prove difficult as there were very few people out and about this random field we had just driven ourselves too.
|Neither Neuquen nor General Roca can|
rightly claim to be the Big Apple.
Despite any large statutes they may erect.
Our weed-wacker, however, had other plans. He gestured that we should wait a moment, and then turned and ran off. Literally, ran into his house. We had no idea what would happen next. And what happened was perfect, from the other side of his house, the man pulls out in a giant pick-up truck – the unpaved roads in Genearl Roca are bumpy, deeply pot-holed, and often covered in water – and tears off down the road waving at us. We were unsure of what was happening, but it seemed, that he was planning on driving us to Oscar’s address! As I shifted into first, and prayed not to stall as he was already getting ahead of us, and we bounced, rattled, and rolled in his dust for about a mile of sharp turns on the windy, dirt-roads. Eventually he stops and we pulled up next to him. Before we could even express our thanks he gave us a big thumbs up, and took off just as fast as he had come to our rescue.
|Our ultimate destination.|
General Roca looked nothing like this.
Elderly General Rocian: No.
Me: Do you know Oscar?
Elderly General Rocian: Oscar so-and-so (naming some last name)
Me: I don’t know his last name.
Elderly General Rocian: Oscar, the very tall man?
Me: I don’t know what he looks like, I only spoke with him on the phone
Elderly General Rocian: Oscar who works at the winerary?
Me: YES! Yes yes yes! That Oscar!
Elderly General Rocian: Oh, he lives right down the street.
He pointed to the house down the street – got into his car and drove away. Standing there, considering the surrealism of the past hour, we walked down to house, which did have a number (the same one Oscar had given me two hours earlier) rang the bell, and lo and behold, we had found Oscar.
Just as before, Oscar told us to wait a moment, went back into his house, and then came around the corner in his giant pick-up truck. Things were looking up because his truck had the winery’s logo on the back, and we ran back to our car to follow him to the guesthouse. More dirt roads lead us back to the main road Google knew, and we were off. We left the main road and began our journey through seemingly endless vineyards. They were all identical. And as we drove further and further our
|We were getting close!|
Far away from the main road, and surrounded by grape wines for as far as we could see, Oscar made one more sharp turn and we pulled in to see a gorgeous house situated directly in the middle of a winery. It looked like the label of a wine bottle. The small cottage had multiple porches with comfy wooden furniture. An old barn stood nearby. As the trees swayed in the breeze the only thing you could hear were the birds chirping. It was perfect. And we hadn’t even been inside.
We quickly took him up on the instructions to make ourselves at home. With the quiches, cheese, fruit and ham, and some bottles of wine, we set up shop on the porch to watch the sun set. The spread was impressive, the scenery spectacular, and the wine delicious. And to top it all off our only other companion, was a super-cute, super-friendly one-eyed dog whom we promptly named Pancho It was one of those moments when the only thing you would change is to make it never end.
Our super-cute one-eyed pup!
A dream spread in Neuquén
|A perfect sundowner at the winery.|
Oscar, as promised, arrived the next morning at 9. Despite the copious amounts of food in the fridge, he brought a dozen warm medialunas (croissants) and two giant jugs of coffee. We sat on the porch in disbelief. It was perfect. Around ten we began our tour of the first winery, Bodega Chacra. An American women took us on a tour of the vineyards and the production facility. The tasting was fun and delicious – if a bit on the early side – as we always drink all the wine in a tasting. We discussed their biodynamic wine-making techniques which are always interesting to hear about.
|Morning at the guesthouse|
|The road to Bodega Noemia.|
Some more photos are below; the rest of the Neuquen photos can be found here:
* The house turned out to offer outstanding value.
** We stayed at De paso Hostel, a very clean hostel run by a really nice couple. We'd recommend it. Check out their website, especially the "Why we are?" section.
|The warm poncho from the guesthouse.|
|Jesse playing with our one-eyed pup|