An Agrentine Wine

Here in Baltimore, we’ve emerged from Old Man Winter’s icy derision into a sanguine spring. The weather is warm; the April showers are helping to pullulate the May flowers. The charm is returning to Charm City (now, whatever this “charm” is that makes Baltimore worthy of the nickname Charm City…I’m sure I’ve never run across it).

Our senior editor and founder, Bill Bonner, who lives in London, thought to escape the diatribe of London’s dreary spring by flying to a “ranch” he recently purchased in the beautiful and peaceful mountains of Argentina (please note the use of quotation marks).

Using the word ‘ranch’ is probably an insult to its definition. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose definition is in the mind of the writer. Although Bill’s ranch is sans electric, heat, hot water and possibly a roof, Bill has managed to find a neighbor, living about an hour’s drive away, with a few more modern amenities – including a satellite Internet connection. He sent our Baltimore office a few narrative electronic mails containing both descriptions of Argentina’s beautiful views, and anecdotes about how rugged the land really is.

In his latest communiqué, things in Argentina seem to have taken an inauspicious turn – from bad to worse. I’ll let Bill explain his sordid Argentine affairs:

“One of the little appreciated advantages of living at a high altitude is that you don’t have to drink so much to get drunk. We discovered this our first night at Colomé. We had a couple of glasses of the local wine – a torrontes – and were woozy within minutes. A couple more glasses with dinner and we were practically under the table. Little did we realize that we would be guzzling the stuff a couple of days later, not for pleasure, but simply to dull the pain from a horse-riding injury. And so, now we are in bed, unable to move either to the left or to the right. Only our fingers work without violent pain.

“But, we get ahead of ourselves…

“Let us continue our story, one step at a time. In order to get from the airport in Salta city to Colomé, we had to pass over some of the most dangerous roads we have ever seen, in a fog so thick we could barely see the car in front of us. To make matters worse, it was bitter cold. This was not the kind of weather we expected for a vacation, nor the kind we wanted.

“But it was what we got…until we finally crossed over the summit and headed down the other side. Then, a remarkable transformation occurred, one similar to the change in the early 20th century when World War I gave way to the Spanish Flu. The terrain and the weather changed almost immediately from lush and wet to sparse and dry. In a few minutes, the sun was out and we found ourselves in a desert, where scarcely a blade of grass would grow.

“‘This is pretty desolate,’ remarked Elizabeth, after a moment. ‘Is the ranch going to be this dry?’

“The ranch she referred to was the one your editor had bought without consulting his wife. He saw the place briefly, in winter. The place seemed to him to have a ‘Wuthering Heights’ feel to it…that is if Wuthering Heights had been in the middle of Death Valley. It had a forlorn, romantic character…isolated from the world. He figured it would make a nice place to have a mental breakdown. There, no one would know or care.

“‘You’d have to be crazy to want to live in a place like this,’ said Henry.

“‘Well,’ said father, as always looking on the bright side, ‘that’s what’s so nice about it. You can go crazy here. The local people will think you are normal.’

“‘Seriously,’ repeated Elizabeth, sticking to her question, ‘is the ranch you bought this barren and desolate?’

“‘More so,’ your editor replied.

“‘Then why are we going there?’ asked Maria.

“‘Why? We go because it is different. It will be an adventure. And, it was cheap.’
“Per acre, the ranch in question was very cheap: less than $3 per acre – absurdly cheap. But, you can imagine what kind of land you get for that kind of money – the kind we were looking at out of our car window, only worse.

“When it comes to investments, your editor follows his own muse. He has been told that he would do better to follow the muse in matters of music and art, but he has a way of doing things that is different from most people. He has an analytical approach to the arts. He saves his poetic spirit for his investments.

“‘What can I say?’ began his explanation. ‘We always wanted to take a vacation at a dude ranch. Well, I figured we could save money by buying the ranch. That way, we can take a vacation every year…without paying for it. Besides, Argentina is coming up in the world. It could be a good investment. And, most important, I just liked the place.’

“‘If it’s all like this, they should have just given it to you,’ said Señora Bonner.

“‘If we stayed at a real dude ranch, we’d have good meals, and people to clean the rooms and do the laundry, ‘ continued Maria, ‘and maybe a health spa or something like that.

“‘And you’d have heat, ‘ your editor suggested.

“‘What! There’s no heat?’ asked a family growing more and more mutinous.

“‘No, I told you there was no heat.’

“Maria quickly replied, ‘but you also told us that it was warm.’

“‘Well, it’s supposed to be warm this time of year, but it’s all relative, isn’t it? It is warm here – compared to the North Pole, ‘ was your editor’s response.

“‘Oh, Da-a-d…’

“But old Dad isn’t so dumb. He’s been a Pater Familias long enough to know when evasive action is required. Having taken his family to a very primitive ranch, a five-hour drive from a provincial city, itself a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires, at the end of 13 hours of flying from Paris, which took an hour to get to from London, he knew he would get some resistance from the near and dear…maybe some sulking…a few bouts of ill temper. So, although he did not know before hand how it would manifest itself, he was ready. Instead of going directly to the ranch, he took the mutinous troupe to a luxury resort, not too far from the said ranch.

“Thus, Colomé…

“Colomé is a very small place, a vineyard. It began about 150 years ago and was taken over recently by a very rich, very ambitious and very accomplished vintner from Switzerland. He spent a fortune on the place, and it shows. He has a stunning resort – with spectacular views and all the latest comforts.

“‘Oh I like this place,’ said Maria.

“Why would she not? It is a beautiful little oasis in the high desert, with the snow-capped Andes in the distance and a first-class restaurant close at hand. Of course, to help run the vineyards, the owner had also brought over some handsome young men from France.

“But of the young men, we took little notice. The vineyards themselves are magnificent, nestled in a little valley, alongside ancient Quebracho trees and watered by streams running down from the mountains.

“‘These vines are very special,’ the owner told us. ‘They are 150 years old.’

“‘And since they were in this isolated little valley, they were not touched by the epidemic of phylloxera that wiped out vineyards in Europe. Plus, it is very high here; we have one of the highest vineyards in the world, which gives the wine a remarkable quality.

“‘The sun is so close and so hot during the day that the grapes pick up a lot of flavor – concentrated in the skin. And then, at night, the temperature falls a lot more than it does in France. We don’t know why it is, but these daily temperature fluctuations also seem to give the grapes more flavor than you’d get elsewhere.

“‘You have some very high grapes, too.’

“This last sentence reminded us of something. We had been told by the previous owner that he had planted some grape vines, as an experiment – about five acres of them.

“We had forgotten.

“‘Yes, the old owner asked us to pick the grapes and process them at our winery. I just went up there a few days ago to check on them. There are a lot of grapes, but they haven’t been managed very well. So, you will not get a very good wine, at least not this year,’ said our Swiss friend.

“‘You know,’ he went on, ‘I was offered a chance to buy that land – several times – but I thought it was too high and too windswept for good grapes.’

“‘Hmmmm…we’ve never seen the place, ‘ said Elizabeth.

“‘Well, it’s right next door…only about a 30-minute drive from here.’

“‘We can’t wait to see it,’ came the reply.”

Craig here. After reading Bill’s situation in Argentina, I immediately thought of the opening line from Eliot’s The Wasteland: “April is the cruelest month.” I suppose Bill’s situation could be worse; he could also be sans wine. That would be beyond cruel.

More from Baltimore and Colom̩ Рtomorrow.