San Juan, “The land of Syrah,” may just be one of the best little wine areas you’ve never heard of. Hopefully, that’s about to change, according to the province’s Governor, José Luis Gioja.
In terms of production, San Juan (located about 380 miles north of Mendoza) is Argentina’s second-largest wine region, with over half of its agricultural land devoted to vineyards. Most of the grapes are grown around Tulum Valley, which offers an exceptional climate for vine cultivation
“Mendoza has always been known for its fine wines, while San Juan wines were relegated to table wine status. But we are working hard to change that and want to be recognized for making quality wines. Our goal is to produce and export more wine and finer wines and we will reach it,” Gioja states with conviction.
The Bodegas y Viñedos Santiago Graffigna is one of the area’s largest wineries, created by an Italian immigrant, Don Santiago Graffigna, in 1870. Numerous awards have decorated this winery’s history, including wild reviews for the 2004 Malbec Grand Reserve. Visits to this architecturally inspiring pyramid-shaped winery include a tour of their new museum filled with historic pictures and artifacts that display the winery’s heritage, the art gallery and a tasting at the wine bar
The winery of Callia was created with the goal of producing the best wines of San Juan and the best Shiraz of Argentina. Some seriously good wine is being crafted here but it’s also a fun spot for visitors, who are welcome to bike around the winery or climb the lookout tower for a bird’s eye view of the grounds filled with shady Palm trees, aguaribays (pepper trees), poplars, and eucalyptus.
Callia uses the latest technology: stainless steel tanks, modern pneumatic presses and a fractionation room to produce their well-crafted wines. Oenologist Fabian Miranda says of the techniques “It’s not only our commitment to Shiraz that is unique, our dedication to experimentation and quality is uncommon for wines at this price point.”
The dedication is paying off for Mr Miranda. At the last Argentina Wine Awards, Callia Reservado Torrontes 2010 received the top award in its category, the “Trophy” (equivalent to the Great Gold medal) and was selected the best Argentine Torrontes for export by the prestigious jury.
A newbie on the scene, Merced del Estero, has only been selling wine since 2005, although they have been growing grapes for other winemakers for years. Much of the work at this family-owned boutique winery, from cutting the grapes with scissors to laboriously sticking on the labels, is done by hand. The Cabernet, Malbec and Torrontes are quite delicious and extremely reasonably priced.
Parque Provincial Ischigualasto, or “Valley of the Moon”, is pre-historic world of incredible rock formations illuminated by magical sunsets which reflect off the bright red and green mountains. It has a museum filled with dinosaur remains, including some fossils of the Eoraptor lunensis – the oldest known predatory dinosaur.
The 225 million year old desert valley is considered one of the most important paleontological sites in the world and has been declared a Natural World Heritage by UNESCO. Throughout this lunar landscape are rock formations nicknamed “The Submarine”, “The Worm”, and “The Sphinx”. The most perplexing spot is “The Bowling Field”, a flat area filled with perfectly round, polished balls in various sizes, made from the hardened soil. There is no single answer to their formation, but one possible explanation is that through molecular attraction different particles of sediment joined together to create these spheres.
Enroute to the Valley of the Moon (about a 3 1/2 hour drive from San Juan) is the Difunta Correa Sanctuary at Vallecito. According to the popular folktale, in around 1840, the husband of Deolinda Correa was forcibly recruited into war by an Army officer who wanted Deolinda for himself. Overcome with desperation, Deolinda took her newborn baby and set off in the desert to find her husband. She ran out of water and soon died. Several days later some gauchos came across her body. Miraculously, her baby was still alive, nursing from his dead mother’s miraculously full breast.
They buried her body in Vallecito and as story of this miracle spread, the locals came by the thousands to visit Deolinda Correa’s grave, leaving behind colourful shrines depicting the story. Correa is the favourite “saint” of truck drivers who often bring bottles of water “to calm her eternal thirst”.
Stay at the centrally located, Del Bono Park Hotel Spa & Casino. The only 4 -star hotel in San Juan, the Del Bono offers plenty of amenities including a full-service health and beauty spa, two restaurants, a bar, an outdoor pool and complimentary buffet breakfast.