High in the elevated grounds of Argentina sits Mendoza where the country's highest vineyards produce signature wines revered throughout the world as Argentina’s cultural revival. Since the Great French Wine Blight, Mendoza has provided the wine industry with a new alternative land for growing some of the Old World’s favorite varietals, which suffered significant affliction in Europe during the blight, bringing Argentina to the forefront of the New World wine industry and gaining recognition for having vineyards at elevations of upwards of 2,700 ft above sea level boasting eclectic climates that contribute to the country’s signature wine productions.
Mendoza & the Country’s Culture
One of our recent articles followed our resident international sommelier, Christie Kiley, on her tour to Salta, Argentina, home of South America’s oldest grape vine, a 152 year old vine located in Cafayate in the Bodega Etchart winery. Also traveling here often are tour groups led by world-renowned guiding company, Adventure Consultants.
Recently featured in the blockbuster film Everest, I caught up with Adventure Consultants’ General Manager of 20 years, Suze Kelly, during one of their tours in Mendoza. Kelly, a former wine grower whose major in microbiology led to a love of fermentation and subsequently a position with small, local wineries in Central Otago, New Zealand in the 90s (today, this area is the premier cold-climate region for Pinot Noir production in the Southern Hemisphere), talked a little bit more about Mendoza, it's culture, and how Adventure Consultants makes it a priority to experience the local wines and food in the area with their clients.
Noting Mendoza as an “easy city” to spend time in, Suze explained how the area’s leafy, tree-lined boulevards boast an abundant downtown cultural center where clients get to experience local wineries after their climb of Mt. Aconcagua, a 7,000 meter peak. According to Kelly, experiencing the local wine is an integral part the trip; AC works with local wine tour specialists to organize day trips to the world-famous vineyards in Mendoza, located relatively close to the city center. Here, they experience Mendoza’s signature wines including Tempranillo, a robust red wine made from its namesake varietal native to Spain. Tour groups often also taste the region's well-known Malbec wines, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and some Chardonnays, one of Suze's favorites.
Food & Wine Pairing in Mendoza
Pairing the region's wines with local foods is a favorite pastime for the team in between climbing sessions. Suze reports that one of their favorite lunch eateries is the Hyatt Hyde Park Hotel, situated right on the Plaza Independencia in the center of town. The hotel’s restaurant features beautiful food, amazing regional wine pairings and an unbeatable eating experience with terrace seating overlooking the Plaza. Wine recommendations to try at the hotel that would pair well with the majority of their dish options are the Merlot and Cabernet Franc Suze says.
Elaborating more on Adventure Consultants trip models that include experiencing local cultures, Suze Kelly says :
“For every location we venture to on the globe, at our start and finish destinations, we eat out locally where possible, and include day tours such as visits to markets, art galleries and shopping excursions. A bonus of travel to high altitude is that you must take rest days in order to acclimatize properly, and thus there is time to thoroughly explore the local environs. Experiential travel is all about the experience, so it’s important to get out and about and not miss out by only staying in your hotel. There are places where you shouldn’t do this unaccompanied but that doesn’t mean you need to miss out on “getting amongst it”.
Appreciation for Argentinian wine is becoming more popular within the New World wine industry, which includes countries like New Zealand and Australia. The country's signature wine is the Torrontes, but as Kelly recommended, the local Malbec is a must-try selection as well as the Bonarda grown in the region, a recommendation also shared by our resident Chef and Food & Drink Writer, Tim McKirdy in his "Introduction to Argentine Wine" article. Mendoza is a busy region full of attractions and local experiences for tourists, making it one of those places where spending longer than the average vacation week is most rewarding, making AC style extended ours appealing.
Adventure Consultant's Mendoza Experiences
Adventure Consultants regularly visits Mendoza during their 23-day-long expeditions to the region to reach the peak of Aconcagua (6,962m) at affordable rates of $5,500. The team also offers a 28-day Aconcagua Course & Ascent Program for $6,500. Suze Kelly climbed Aconcagua in 2008, starting and ending the tour in Mendoza, noting that the experience was unforgettable, venturing to the peak and returning back to the hot plains and sophistication of Mendoza.
Suze has climbed with the team on various occasions, once in 2013 to Lhotse, Everest’s 8000m sister summit, and last year during the expedition that encountered an avalanche that ended the season. She’s expecting to lead a trek to Everest Base Camp in April of 2016
As with their tours to Mendoza, Adventure Consultants religiously conduct small, personalized tours with experienced climbers, and the team always travels with an open mind to experience the surrounding culture. In Mendoza, it’s easier to visit the local vineyards with a smaller footprint, taste the wines and travel the streets of the city in smaller groups. We asked if this process helps to create a well-rounded trip for those thinking about traveling with them to Mendoza, Suze says,
“We have always had a policy at AC of operating lower impact trips with a focus on high quality and small group numbers. We have high standards for the pre-requisites and previous experience for the team members on all our trips, so we spend a lot of time working with prospective climbers to ensure they are on the correct trip for their ability and to them only move on to higher and harder objectives once the groundwork on technical skills and mileage coupled with experience has been achieved. We get repeated feedback from our groups that they enjoyed the personalized attention to detail for their trip and the fact that the strong leadership brings the group together to create a team approach rather than a mass tourism experience. It’s important to tread lightly wherever you go and to travel with an open mind, especially when it comes to the day to day contact with the culture that you’re in. Having a high local staff to team member ratio, in addition to the western guides, actually provides the cultural exchange that makes these trips so memorable.”
About Adventure Consultants
Adventure Consultants was founded by mountaineering legends, Rob Hall and Gary Ball, after the death of Ball and the death of Rob Hall in 1996, the company was eventually bought out by Guy Cotter, and while under his leadership, the company has excelled well beyond the expectations of its founder, they still remember Hall and keep his memory alive. We asked Suze if being the home of climbing legends Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to successfully summit Everest, and Rob Hall, carried the standard and history through to their operations: Suze Kelly says:
“We have posters featuring Rob from the period 1992 - 96 which everyone in the office passes by on a daily basis so we see his smiling face always, and although it’s only Guy and myself who remember him in person we are certainly proud of the legacy that he created at AC as a pioneer of high altitude guiding. Everyone who works here, and by default our clients who become part of our family, is aware that this is a very special company, who started out guiding at the top of the world and have slowly grown to encompass many other peaks and remote places on the planet, which is pretty unique.”
“New Zealand has a proud history of climbing in our rugged Southern Alps mountain ranges and this translates into tough mountaineers who are used to the elements. Our mountain guides trained in New Zealand come from a tradition of long days of climbing in all conditions and this gives them endurance and ‘big mountain’ experience to draw on as they take care of their clients whilst climbing, both here in NZ and on mountains all over the world.”
A Word from Adventure Consultant’s CEO, Guy Cotter
"Our objective remains as it always has; to operate exceptional adventures. Whether it is for a person experiencing the outdoor world for the first time - or recidivist expedition goers returning to the world’s most extreme objectives, we apply the same level of enthusiasm and care to every one of our journeys. We design our trips specifically for people who prefer to invest wisely in their adventures, because we appreciate that time is short and when you are going to do it, make sure you do it right!
Personally, I think of every expedition or trip as a pilgrimage where I can discover and grow from the journey or experience. A pilgrimage, by nature, isn’t always easy. There will be challenges that must be overcome and sometimes those challenges are caused by our own internal struggles from which we must evolve to succeed.
The journey should be planned and executed in the best way possible; in fine style and by employing intelligent tactics with magical highlights along the way. We make every effort to strike a balance between an appropriate level of comfort to engender success, yet at the same time we endeavor to keep it sufficiently simple to maintain a real sense of adventure. The team here at Adventure Consultants plan and operate our adventures with a penchant for ensuring that your journey is a perfectly memorable experience. From the first communication with us through to the farewell at the end of your trip our team do their very best to provide you with expeditions and adventures that are exceptional in every way."