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TheMagic of Cafayate, Argentina

Cafayate is Argentina’s second-largest winemaking area, and it’s on the rise.

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Cafayate’s Crystal Ball
Cafayate's Crystal Ball

by David Galland | February 13, 2015
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A primary function of the ventral visual cortex (VVC) of the human brain, I have been told, is to recognize patterns. Provided a pattern is recognized (the process is near-instantaneous), the VVC remains in a state of somnolence.

The sensory inputs you receive while watching cars pass by your office window would cause nary a blip in the VVC. Been there, done that.

If, however, you were to glance up from your work—as happened to me one day in Cafayate—and observe two African lions and a Bengal tiger gliding by, the VVC would fire up like flares off a sinking ship.

And once it’s fired up, the VVC stays fired up, causing a great deal of back and forth between the left and right brains until it’s able to identify, label, and file the cause of its disturbance in the proper mental cabinet. (The lions and tiger were riding in a circus truck… a story for another day).

Which brings me to the sparkling new Piattelli Bodega, Cafayate’s newest wine bodega and, in my view, its very own crystal ball.

Meet the Malinskis

Minnesotans Jon and Arlene Malinski stumbled into the wine business by virtue of an established Mendoza winemaking operation being put up as collateral on a loan that subsequently went bad.

Undeterred by the fact they knew nothing about winemaking, they rolled up their sleeves and with typical Midwestern enthusiasm turned the business around.

Argentina is the largest wine producer in South America, and the fifth largest in the world.

It’s from Mendoza—the largest wine region in Argentina by far—that the bulk of that wine flows forth. But Mendoza has a problem: every three or four years, the crops there are devastated by hail.

Which brings Cafayate into the story: being farther north and enjoying a far more temperate climate, Cafayate is much less prone to weather damage.

This meteorological truth has triggered something of a land rush involving the Mendoza winemakers, the result being roughly a doubling in the amount of Cafayate vineyards since I first started visiting 12 years ago.

Consequently, Cafayate is now Argentina’s second-largest winemaking area… but it’s very much David vs. Goliath, as production in the valley remains a fraction of that in Mendoza.

Like other Mendoza winemakers, Jon and Arlene made the trip to Cafayate, fell in love with the place, and somewhere along the line decided not only to build a vineyard, but to spend untold millions creating what the locals simply refer to as “Piattelli”—a bodega so over the top in scale and quality that I’ve never seen the likes of it.

It would be considered exceptional even in Napa Valley or in the south of France.

This is where the VVC disturbance comes in.

While Cafayate stands apart from all other small Argentine towns in numerous ways—including the picture-perfect town plaza, upscale shops, and outdoor cafés—in almost no construct would one expect to find a Piattelli perched up on a hillside in the middle of the Argentine outback.

You can begin to see what I can’t properly describe in these photos. But to appreciate it, you have to visit and enjoy the full experience, starting with a tour of a winemaking operation that feels like it’s been plucked straight out of a James Bond movie (including stainless steel wine holding tanks that look almost exactly like atomic bombs).

As you wander about, you’ll want to be sure to take a close look at the stone walls. Jon once described the process used in constructing them—an all-but-lost art where artisan stoneworkers superheat a special type of rock before pulling them out and pouring water on them. That causes the rock to crack in half, exposing the shiny marble-like interior used in creating the wall face.

Naturally, Piattelli also has an elegant wine-tasting room and a well-stocked gift shop and art gallery. It’s on the veranda, however, where Piattelli’s magnificence is fully on display, offering guests an expansive view of the valley below, while black-attired waiters ply you with fine wines or your favorite tropical drink.

The restaurant serves lunch daily, but especially excels at putting on aSunday asado which has become so popular it can be hard to get a table.

For those of us living at La Estancia, the phrase “let’s do lunch at Piattelli” has become synonymous with “let’s take the afternoon off, enjoy a lovely lunch on the veranda at Piattelli, and drink a tad too much wine.”

It’s where we bring visitors we wish to impress or to underscore Cafayate’s bright future.

That’s because after visiting La Estancia—an equally impressive but more privately sited retreat—then settling in on the veranda of Piattelli, you can’t come to any other conclusion than that Cafayate’s star is very much on the ascent.

So that you’ll recognize him, in the picture below Jon Malinksi is the fellow in the dark shirt standing between fellow Estancieros Pete Kofod and Doug Casey. If and when you get to meet Jon, you’ll find him a larger-than-life character, which kind of goes without saying when you consider what an amazing bodega he created in Cafayate.

But there really is only one way to understand Cafayate and what’s going on at La Estancia de Cafayate, and that is to visit.

There’s no better time to do so than this coming March 11-16, when Doug Casey will be hosting our next big event.

As the number of guests that can be accommodated is strictly limited, we expect it will quickly sell out, like previous events.

As a result, if you are at all interested in attending, you’ll want to take time to learn more about La Estancia de Cafayate and register sooner rather than later.

For prompt answers, drop a quick email to experience@laest.com.

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About tatamkuluafrica

I am a man who has lived n 6 of the 7 continents. I first arrived in Africa on April 18, 1981. Africa has been a part of my life since. I spent 8 months living in a Xhosa village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. I was given he nickname Tatamkulu Africa. In Xhosa it means "Grandfather Africa." In April of 1994 I was allowed to vote in the first democratic election in South Africa..I was honored to be part of such a historical moment. It was a beautiful and a magical day.

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