Maipú 2: Memory as Fiction?

(Weather’s turned with a vengeance-- variable & cloudy for nearly two weeks, with dramatic bouts of rain & thunder. I only managed my first run in a week yesterday...)

When the voice of Maria Callas came through the
speakers in Dr. Pedro Rosell’s 4x4 compact, my tipsy
dehydration spun into dizzy culture shock. To my
embarrassment on being corrected & immediately
recognizing the muted brass tone in the voice’s lower
register, the name I’d unreflectively blurted out
was, ‘Montserrat Caballé?!’

I made an attempt to recover some cultural
credibility by asking if it was the mad scene from
‘Lucia di Lammermoor’— but I was wrong, again.
It was another mad scene, the kind on which Callas
built her name & reputation, attacking them as she
did at truly frightening emotional pitch; but this
was Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’.

I could lay some responsibility for my slightly
delirious state at the feet of Dr. Rosell’s
charm & generosity—
At ‘Campo Negro’, the intimately scaled facility
he's gradually built & shares with some of his
winemaking students, I finally had a taste of the
elusive St. Jeannet.
Only a hint of subtler, more complex character was
left in the wine after nearly a month sitting around
the winery in a hand-stoppered bottle— all tart
Granny Smith apple by then, but surprisingly
crisp & bright.
(The winery has no onsite storage & the lone bottle
was the result of some serendipitous forgetfulness.)

I was then treated to a course in local terroir,
sampling five Malbecs-- one each from the lower
bench & the 900 meter ridge planting blocks
of ‘El Reposo’ vineyard, where we were
located; & three from a property in ‘La Consulta’,
which is near
San Carlos towards the southern end
of Valle de Uco— one of them a different clone-- also
planted at varying, if much higher, elevations…
Then he served three Cabernet samples from the
same high altitude vineyard, then a Merlot…

Now, after introducing me to his wife, heiress of
the Navarro Correas family, & freshening my palate
with a glass of his new baby bubbly, he wanted to show
me this baby’s birthplace-- his new partnership’s
winery home, 'Bodega Cruzat', still being built in
Perdriel, & dedicated exclusively to producing
sparkling wines…

What particularly fueled my sense of culture shock—
or more like social dislocation—is that I’d managed to
find Campo Negro winery after having lunch at a truck
stop depot, the storage & rest area for a shipping
company that carries corn feed & oil from Córdoba
to Chile.
The woman running the depot kitchen had worked
at what once was a sweet little place called
La Casa de Ofelia’, now locked behind a cyclone-fence
gate sporting a ‘For Sale’ sign. I learned this from
her sister, who owns a little kiosk or ‘despensa’
further down Franklin Villanueva road, where I
stopped, after the morning’s first vigorous sixty-odd
minute hike, to rehydrate & ask about alternatives
for a bite to eat. After hearing some of my story, she
dissuaded me from taking what admittedly looked
like a particularly desolate stretch of dirt road to loop
my way back home to Bodega Cecchin & actually drove
me to the lunch room at the depot.
On top of everything else, the sisters (-apologies,
must ask to be reminded of their names!) turned
out to be cousins to my host at the time, Oscar
Alberto Cecchin!

To backtrack further: I had arrived fifteen minutes
after Midday to find the gates to Domaine Saint Diego
closed, & I’d been told Sr. Mendoza & his family
were actually just back from vacation & the winery
would reopen the following day.
I would end up hiking about 28 kilometres (17.5 miles)
the next day, twice to the winery & back, with similarly
disappointing results…

(--to be continued...)


Fibra de Rosa o Apoyo Incierto

para Varda y Phyllis Rae
--la ocasión y las claves del deseo

entrañable imperfección
de cada cuerpo calado
que teme ser amable—
fibra de rosa o apoyo incierto

el tiempo aprieta su paso
-- ¿nos pisará los talones?
y marca con honda huella
su sellado anonimato

sólo la planta desnuda
rinde el saber de su callo
por reflejar la cabeza
y la palma emular, de la mano


Meetings in Maipú: Part One

(Struggling to structure a narrative out of my week
in Maipú, I'll do my best to correct my tendency to
write episodes for unfinished serials...)

My planned three-day visit to Bodega Cecchin stretched
out into a five-night stay, & I confess I wasn’t
looking forward to coming back into town last Thursday.
It merely meant returning to my laptop, which takes me
irregularly, haphazardly online by latching onto stray
(government?) office Wi-Fi network signals in my
sweltering room, & to buzzing mosquitoes that feed on
my insomnia & remind me I carry the dark & bittersweet
Puerto Rico of my soul with me wherever I may go-- as
formative, enduring experience.

The excuse for my delayed return was Oscar Alberto
Cecchin’s fairly insistent recommendation that I meet
Ángel ‘el Petiso’ Mendoza, a supremely knowledgeable
winemaker who, more or less in Alberto’s words,
(my translation) knows,
‘how to make wine, how to manufacture wine &
how to let wine make itself’.

This felt like a setup for a test of my palate in figuring
out how interventionist or not he might be with the
product of his ‘boutique’ winery, ‘Domaine San Diego’:
Señor Mendoza made his name & career working for
historically important producer Peñaflor, which was
in 1997-- along with the slightly more upscale,
if still mass-market, Trapiche label-- by
Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette from the 2nd
Italo-Argentino generation of the Pulenta family,
originally from Ancona in Le Marche.

Tuesday morning around eleven-thirty, a little later
than I’d intended, I set out on foot to cover the six or
so kilometers to Sr. Mendoza’s winery in the
Lunlunta district of Maipú. However, I had another,
adjunct mission—somewhat more complicated but
closer to my grape-geek’s vinous heart…
On one of my online rambles, sometime back home in
Puerto Rico
, I’d found a write-up on an Argentinian
bottling of a rare white varietal— the French-sounding
St. Jeannet, which the marketing cheat-sheet I’d come
across identified as having an Italian origin, however—
here’s the (just retrieved) core of what I found:

• 2005 Finca Reposo Old Vine Saint Jeannet

alc./ vol: 13.6%
Total Acid: 4.80 g/l
VA: 0.22
Res. Sug: 1.18 g/l
pH: 3.3

Appellation: Estate grown, Cruz de Piedra,
Mendoza, Argentina.

Finca El Reposo or basically “Resting Vineyard” is
a 90 + year old vineyard in the premium growing
area of Cruz de Piedra, Mendoza.
It contains some of the most interesting Cab/Sauv
in Argentina as well as very rare Saint Jeannet,
an ancient, Italian white variety, long lost
from the world.

The character of the wines are impacted by a
stoney, very poor soil, located just east of
Lujan de Cuyo and at an altitude of 3214 feet
above sea level.
This wine was fermented in stainless steel and
has 100% malolactic fermentation.
Being old-vine, the vineyards yield very little fruit.
This year, tonnage was only 2.7 per acre.


Pedro Rosell & Cristian Allamand.


I had forgotten the ‘El Reposo’ name & except for some
recollection of rehearsing, 'Je suis passionné de cépages
rares!' ('I'm fascinated by rare varietals!) I can't for the
life of me remember how Brigitte Subra, co-owner with
her husband Philippe of 'Carinae, Viñedos y Bodega',
came to make some markings on a photocopied map
indicating the vague whereabouts & phone of a small
winery with the somewhat ominous name of
'Campo Negro' ('Black Field')...
It was located somewhere on
a dirt road branching East
off Maza towards Cruz de Piedra, on the way to Lunlunta,
at the level of Amézcuaga-- which led West to Luján de
Cuyo, 5 km away.
Confused? Not half as much as I was...



Andropause Mendoza: Mo' Better Confessional Mission Disclosure Statements

My blogging mentor, Terry H., has touchingly expressed some concern in his blog:

'I'm worried about David J

Dude, you sound like you're off your meds. Know the problem well. Be careful. I don't want another Motorcycle Diaries to deal with. Anyway, the only person you could go to work for today would be Chavez. Don't be like Matilda and run way VenzuelAH.'

Hmmm... a worrying expression of worry-- written in code, it would seem...
I guess I've been sounding like some sort of contentious revolutionist-- but what pushes my buttons in the statement is the mood-control-by-prescription angle.
...well, Dr. Terry, if you're the one to write me some script, I'll consider taking the Big Pharma vehicle for a ride...I'm just not sure how much of a Gonzo-journalist joyride it might actually be.
To follow through on the bit of my late brother's story begun here:
Zoloft, Xanax & some updated version of Antabuse supposed to help curb Alberto's Gargantuan appetite for drink were the official chemical cocktail my late brother ran on.
Myself, I've been on Lithium & Merital on occasion, with not the most positive results...

Certainly seems like my libido will not 'go gently into that good night'-- I'll guess just have to get used to the shameful complexities of... browsing porn through bifocals.

--my fave Police song: Bring On The Night!
--'I couldn't stand another minute of daylight'--
Daylight Savings Time in Mendoza is like, to quote another little pop jewel from that late 70's/early 80's liminal shadowland,
'putting out the fire/with gasoline'...

feel down, fuel up
sink in thought & fill it out

release the lesser vehicle
to dive under ground & ride in style

out of the past
in fossil-fueled wingless flight

no landing strip
in sight or sound...


'Forget it, Jake- it's Mendoza'

I wander from city to village, among figures in a changing landscape...

I'm champing at the bit in the relentless, soul-sapping heat, looking forward to taking a 'vacation' from my frustrating, thus far fruitless struggle to network among winemakers, & riding a train as far South as I can-- in Chile, where rumor has it there is still some working passenger service: to Temuco, with its Pablo Neruda Railroad Museum; to Puerto Montt...?
--maybe take the ferry to the island of Chiloé...

I've been e-mailing the occasional random comment to friends concerning the-- strange, obvious, fanciful?-- analogies between Mendoza & the city of Los Angeles:
as a widely spread conurbation in a semi-arid, earthquake-prone valley bowl where water rights are a crucial (survival & political) issue, Mendoza would seem to conflate-- or tangle up?-- the Northern & Southern economic & environmental paradigms of the Golden State--
where the wine business is largely, to this day, an aristocratic, old money club; with exponential growth only lately fueled by a major influx of European capital & supported by its marketing channels; & with all of the exclusive, rigidly segmented social hierarchies reminiscent of the (Spanish colonial) Old West (--& Old Hollywood) still in place...

I mean, imagine Hollywood with a more prominent, clearly evident Spanish character--
as late as the end of the 1930's there were exclusive bridle paths for film industry moguls to ride to their studios-- Spanish riding culture being another peculiarly aristocratic link between these sprawling towns...
...as far as the look & decentered 'feel' of the place, the historical heart of Mendoza was flattened by a major earthquake in 1861 & there is very little remnant of its colonial origins-- major but 'only mid-strength' temblors have ocurred as recently as 1985 & 2006...

As if to more securely ground this speculative train of thought, a documentary on the local Public TV station yesterday alerted me to the efforts of a group of journalists & film historians to document, salvage, & exhibit the record & extant examples of what may have been, at one time, a locally thriving film industry-- with a documentary tradition going back to the late 1920's & their first silent fiction feature dating to 1938.
Amazing. The group itself was surprised at the amount of material moldering away in various institutional film archives in Buenos Aires. The most impressive-- & charming-- piece of filmmaking showcased was, to these eyes, a Western parody rather obviously titled 'El Último Cowboy'. The selection of clips evidenced excellent visual, photographic & directorial quality; it seemed a well-acted, spot-on satire featuring droll, dry humor which may (or may not?) be another regional Mendocino character trait...