Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bento Goncalves | Brazil

Sunday, February 23, 2014
We left Buenos Aires on a Wednesday and flew to Porto Alegre, Brazil.  I, on my mother's side, have several aunts, uncles, and many cousins in Porto Alegre and Canoas, and my grandparents own a farm about two hours from the city too. My mother took a cruise with my grandparents and we coordinated our arrival in Brazil to coincide with theirs so that we could all spend time there together. Also, my grandparents are getting older, and have decided to move back to the United States full time. They have a condo near my mom, and have sold their farm to an Italian farmer (my grandfather calls him "the gringo") who has also purchased the surrounding acres. They have a generous four years to completely relocate before saying goodbye to the farm forever. We took this opportunity being in South America for me to take my third and last visit to the farm. 
My grandparents picked us up from the airport and our first stop was to my cousins house in the city. We dropped off our luggage with her and her family, and packed an overnight bag, and for the first time I met her sweet children. Even though I couldn't communicate with extended family, I relied on my mother and grandparents to translate Portuguese back and forth for me. We did learn some wonderful phrases like, "thank you" of course, as well as "pleased to meet you" and "I've missed you so much". Before heading to the farm, we had reservations to stay overnight at a winery! 
We snacked on some sandwiches before heading to Bento Goncalces two hours away, an area of Brazil with vineyard after sprawling vineyard. We arrived before sunset, checked in, and laid down in our suite briefly before dinner. First, there was a sparkling wine tasting before dinner. S and I opted for the brut sparkling wine over the sweet one. Apparently, the winery that we stayed at has been awarded the right to called their sparkling wine "champagne" from France because they make theirs exactly as the French do. In fact, during the tour, I witnessed the entire process and it is exactly as the technique that I learned Madame Veuve Cliquot invented. However, no matter what it's called, I love champagne and how celebratory it is and how the bubbles seem to dance their way to the top. 
From the tasting room, we went to the dining room. There was an immense chandelier that sparkled more than a diamond ring. We sat at a long table, my grandfather at the head. He toasted to our family and we laughed and enjoyed our many courses and a couple bottles of wine. We even started with a choice of aperitifs; S chose the brandy they make onsite, and I chose the grappa, which is like a brandy but made with grapes. The brandy was the smarter choice. With one ice cube, it was smokey and complex like our favorite scotch. 
The next morning we woke early to watch the sun rise over the vineyards. The mountains were high and there were a few clouds, so it was hard to see the pink that we are used to in Florida, but watching light slowly illuminate the grapevines was beautiful. Then it was time for the buffet of omelettes, fruits, house-made yogurt, granola, coffee, tea, pastries, and even cakes. It was all a splurge, especially since we are the type to eat a simple breakfast of oatmeal or fruit and a cup of black coffee for me. It was great to keep our bellies full since we had a four hour tour ahead of us... in Portuguese! My mother was our translator, and our group was the only one on the tour so it was like another private tour! We started with where they press the grapes and put them into stainless steel tanks, the laboratory, the aging room, the bottling area, and the store. 
We didn't tour the vineyards themselves, but that is probably because the vines surrounded us. There was even a section where the vines were raised high enough for stone tables and a picnic to be had underneath them. 
Hairnets for the tour, how flattering!
There is so much to love about wineries and the process of wine making. I love the care and preciseness that goes into sparkling wine, and I love even more how bubbles mean celebration. I have a good friend Caroline to thank for my new appreciation of champagne. 
This is the hall where there were endless bottles of champagne, stored at an angle, riddled every so often to create their enchanting bubbles. It was remarkable to see everything that I have learned in my History and Culture of Wine class come to life. The way they make champagne is everything I've ever imagined and if I could, I would love to own my own winery (with ample room to hold special events of course!). 
This is me and my mom! Do we look alike? 
And of course, me and S, with a vast view of Bento Goncalves behind us. This area is the top of a tower that is attached to the store at the winery we stayed at, Casa Valduga. 
At the end of the tour was a generous tasting. We started with two whites. One was a chardonnay that I adored and could imagine myself eating with various cheeses. The other was a crisp one that reminded me of a sauvignon blanc; it was good, but it is something that I would drink by the pool with friends one afternoon, and I would much prefer to enjoy my wine with some cheese. After all, wine and cheese is my favorite couple. 
We enjoyed three reds, and I was making assumptions on grape varietal, vintage, and writing the flavors that I tasted and the scents I picked up from the bouquet. I was only right with one of them, and I guessed the correct year because of the coloring and the way the tannins aged. I guessed the wrong grape varietals on all of them, and I think the soil and climate in Brazil and Chile is completely different than what I am used to! If there was a Malbec or Cotes du Rhone, I would have been golden being as those are my favorites. My favorite red that we tasted was a cabernet sauvignon from Chile and now that I am home, I am keeping an eye out for some! Instead of going with my old favorites, I am hoping to experiment with some Chilean wines until I find a delightful one for a great price.
We ended with champagne, and our tour guide sabered the bottle with a machete modeled after Napolean. After the sabering (or after many glasses of wine?) my grandfather picked up the sword and dueled nobody in particular. I am thankful to have had my camera near me for this memorable moment, one that I will cherish and remember this trip by fun moments like these. 
After enjoying Casa Valduga, we drove elsewhere in Bento Goncalves and went to Peterlongo where they specialize in champagne as well for their tour and tasting. We saw old bottles that they left as-is in an underground corridor. The champagne bottles were brown with dust, dirt, and age. It was grounding to see how old the tradition really is. And it's a remarkable way to spend time with family. Learning history of the area you are from, and enjoy some history in a glass. Cheers! 

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