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Leisure: Southern Comforts

  • David Lyon

In my first morning at the Vines Resort and Spa in western Argentina, one of the property’s cofounders, Michael Evans, cajoled me into a predawn walk in the vineyards. I was sleepily wishing I had begged off until, glancing west toward the dark wall of the Andes, I glimpsed the full moon dropping out of high clouds and sinking between two peaks. Moments later, the first rays of sunlight struck the snow-covered caps of the more than 20,000-foot range. Evans pointed his camera to capture the honey-colored light sweeping swiftly down the mountainsides and pooling among the rows of vines. “Our first goal,” he said, lowering his lens, “was to make great wine. It turns out that the views are also mesmerizing.”

Seventy miles southwest of the city of Mendoza, the Uco Valley has the highest elevation (between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level) and the greatest variance between daytime and nighttime temperatures (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit) of Mendoza’s three winemaking regions. Its rocky soils have supported wine grapes—mostly Malbec, which became famous in the adjacent Luján de Cuyo—since the early 1800s, but peaches and cherries had almost completely supplanted vines before drip-irrigation technology revolutionized viticulture in the late 20th century. Within a decade of installing drip systems, a few Uco Valley winemakers were crafting Malbec and Bordeaux-style blends that earned near-perfect to perfect scores from top critics. And now the region has completed its transformation into a wine-tourism destination with the opening of the Vines Resort and Spa, which offers suitably appointed accommodations for those enthusiasts intent on forming a more personal relationship with this dynamic region.

The resort is situated in the middle of the valley at the Vines of Mendoza vineyard. Assisted by the top Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával, Evans and his partner Pablo Gimenez Riili discovered the property in 2005 and began planting vines in 2007. In contrast to the typical timeline for new plantings, the vines produced premium fruit from the outset. By the third vintage, Wine Advocate was bestowing scores of 90 points and higher on Vines wines.

Evans and Gimenez Riili also sold vineyard plots (along with their vineyard-management and winemaking services) to more than 130 individuals who wanted to establish their own wine labels for a relatively small investment. (The Vines’ marketing team can work with owners to create their labels and will also set up online stores for those interested in selling their wines commercially.) Achával, one of the first owners, continues to serve as a consulting winemaker, lending to these efforts a level of expertise most garagistes can only dream of. The owners who visit to plant their vines, harvest and crush their grapes, and blend their wines liken the experience to attending fantasy wine camp—an oenological adventure in which more casual connoisseurs can now share. Constructed primarily of natural wood and stone, the resort’s 22 sleek, modernist villas feature floor-to-ceiling windows that frame vistas of vineyards and the towering Andes. Guests literally step from their spacious, contemporary quarters into the rhythms of the Southern Hemisphere’s winemaking seasons.