High Hopes In The Andes

Science & Tech
Typography

By 1843 Magazine

It is one of wine’s cruellest ironies that there seems to be no perceptible relationship between the beauty of a landscape and the beauty of the beverages it bequeaths. The “first growth” reds of Bordeaux, revered since the 18th century, spring from martially spaced rows of grapevine monoculture parked on a featureless plain. In contrast, Spain’s Canary Islands offer a surreal panorama of deep pits dug into ebony-coloured volcanic ash, surrounded by crescent-shaped stone walls that each protect a lone, hardy plant from the fierce trade winds. The resulting tipple is a testament to nature’s resilience and man’s perseverance – and is generally consigned to supermarket discount racks.

Nowhere is this dissonance more jarring than Mendoza, in west-central Argentina. Nestled at the base of the jagged Andes mountains, its vineyards seem to run right up to the edge of the cordillera (Spanish for “chain”), which rises as much as 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) off the valley floor in just 50km (30 miles). On a clear day, it is hard to resist clichéd musings on the smallness of mankind while craning one’s neck to admire their majestic, serrated peaks; when it’s overcast, it’s easy to confuse the snow-capped summits for clouds. When you’re walking through the vineyards on a slight incline, a one-metre-tall T-shaped plant can obscure the view of a 6,000-metre mountain.

Cypress-like alamos trees shield the fields from the zonda, the biting gusts that blow off the peaks whenever someone flouts the wishes of Pachamama, the Mother-Earth deity of indigenous Andeans. With vast distances muffling human noise, the calls of the chimango, a brown bird of prey, reverberate across the vineyards, ranging from the rat-tat of machine-gun fire to the squeaks of a toy dog. Condors occasionally swoop across the sky on the world’s largest wingspan, over three metres across. And copper-skinned, moustachioed gauchos mutter... (Read More)

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