As you may recall, a couple of weeks before I headed back to the US some us had planned a trip to the local wine country which we had to cancel at the last minute due to our one Portuguese speaking friend being unable to go. Since we had already planned on the trip to Rio the next weekend that left us the last weekend before my vacation to try again.

This time we had a few more Brazilians interested, including the wife of the guy from our office who had the party the night before we were supposed to go the first time and offered to organize things for us. She did a great job of finding us not only a driver, but pre-selected three places to visit and a stop for lunch (food included in the price) for only $140 per person. This was actually bargained down from $155 per person since we had seven people going with us.

Given that what she forwarded to us in email was in Portuguese, and the translation engines didn’t help much this time, we weren’t sure if we were joining others or if we would be alone. A couple of thing that made us curious about this was the choice to leave ay 7 am, as we had suggested leaving at 9 and that we had to meet the driver downtown rather than being able to arrange a pick up at our hotel.  The fact that it mentioned the train as an optional extra made us wonder a bit more whether there would be a stop at the train for those interested picking them up again later. Turned out it was just us and no train stop. Perfect.

So we met at 7 am for our departure, well 4 of us were there at 7 with Sarah just making after oversleeping. Jimmy had already texted both Sarah and I saying he had decided not to go. Then we waited, and waited, and waited, and tried to call the other two with no luck. So shortly after 7:30, and some quick price negotiations given the smaller group, we piled into the van and headed out of town. We did a quick stop on the way for some water and snacks and then continued on to our first vineyard.

Along the way I observed a number of instances of fiscalização electrônica which are essentially electronic speed bumps or more specifically a cross between a speed bumb and a red light camera. It is always interesting to me when living in a country other than where I was born to see how various infrastructure things are prioritized. While I can see how this type of system is quite useful in a location where traffic laws are generally treated as suggestions, it seems to me as if other things such as modern insulation and heating, for example, would be of a higher priority. I am not saying that concentrating on this is right or wrong, as I don’t have the background with which to make that type of a determination, I am just noting that these types of things often get me thinking about the different ways that societies move forward.

For part of the morning, as we neared our destination, we were enveloped in a thick fog, making me very glad that I was not driving. Since we were in a hilly area, we would pop in and out of the fog backs depending on our elevation. To give you an idea of the lack of visibility I have included this photo from just after we arrived at our first stop. If I recall correctly, there where times during the drive that you couldn’t even see this far.

Salton, established in 1910, was our first stop. Who would have known that Brazil has been making wines for 100 years. We had a wonderful tour where we learned the history of Salton as well as learned (or re-learned in my case how wine is made). Our guide kept apologizing for his English, which was actually quite good, and he was very knowledgeable. He answered many of our questions that were over and above his normal tour speech, including letting us know that Salton normally does not export their wines, and are instead working in increasing the knowledge of Brazilians about wine. It did sound like they export on a case by case basis, but I doubt I will find anything in the US anytime soon, which is actually quite sad since as you will see from my tasting notes later, they actually had some good products. The fact that they have been around for 100 years means that they will be celebrating later this year, and that might make another trip to the region worth the effort.

The tour began with a look at some wine related artwork that was incorporated throughout the property. Not only was it quite pleasing to look at, it turns out that the figures depicted are actually of workers in the winery. Our guide was not yet in any of the works as he had only been working there a short time having come from the winery where we were heading to next.

We then saw the large production, fermentation, and bottling areas before proceeding to the climate controlled barrel room where the reds where aging nicely. The area in front of the storage room is available for private functions, too bad it’s too long of a drive for one of our monthly meetings as it would be a much better locale than the smokey bar we were at for our last meeting.

Proceeding into the awards room, we saw that it was filled with certificates from all over the world, including this one from France, so I guess they must be doing something right!

Our final stop before heading out onto the wonderfully manicured grounds was the original fermentation room with very large barrels made of a wood that was not good for the wine and thus had to be coated to prevent contamination. A far cry from the concerns of today of the percentage of French versus American oak.

The grounds were amazing. Not only were there the terraced fields one would expect, there was also a sundial on the façade of the building crowned with a statue of Dionysus, the god of wine, as well as fountains an manicured lawns.

It was then off to the tasting room where we all decided to upgrade and pay the extra to taste the premium wines, generally I feel it is worth doing this but I can rightfully be called a wine snob so for some it may not be worth the price. In this case, we were able to get one of the fees back when after tasting Sarah and I combined our purchases to get to the total amount that was required for the rebate.

What we tasted was surprisingly good, since while Argentina and Chile are known for their wines, Brazil is still an up and comer in this industry. There were a few that we didn’t like, but you find that everywhere. I was very impressed with their top end sparkling wine Èvidence and actually bought a bottle to bring back to the US to share hopefully during a trip to Ravinia. I also bought a Licorso Intenso which was a very unique dessert wine and a Virtude Chardonnay which we weren’t actually able to taste due to limited stock but promises to be good based on our sampling of their mid-range Chardonnay. Sadly since I am writing this after having been home and now being back in Brazil I don’t have my tasting notes with me so I can’t really share any more information.

Given the length of the first tour, it was now time for lunch, so we hopped back into our van and drove through some spectacular vineyard areas across some rather narrow and bumpy roads. We were unfortunately driving too fast to get any good snaps of the vineyards or the local life we observed along the way.

Lunch itself was served in a buffet at the table style with many options, and they were very accommodating for Sarah’s restricted diet making a special plate of pasta for her, she was also able to eat some of the items already included. One of my favorite dishes was the tortellini soup, probably because the broth was warm and a bit salty and I had been feeling a cold coming on (the old chicken soup remedy).

The next winery, Casa Valduga was right next door to the restaurant. The deal there was not quite as good as we had to pay for the tour and the tasting, we got a nice glass to use which we got to keep, but were a bit disappointed as we had been led to believe that our tour from Porto Alegre included the base tours. We also had an issue with our stupid US credit cards not having the chips in them, so we had to pay cash for the tour, later when I bought a bottle of wine mine worked so they must have had different machines.

The tour was good from an information level, though this time it was in Portuguese with a short translation for Sarah and myself. At Salton we had a private tour and here we were part of a large group so we had to go with the flow. Just as at Salton, they started with an overview movie, the difference being that with the private tour they were able to show an English version and here Sarah and I pretty much had to guess what they were saying based on the images. After the introduction they did show us a good portion of their “guarded” sparkling cellars and explained the riddling technique which was invented by Veuve Cliquot.

As it had turned into quite a nice day, when we stepped outside onto a terrace to view the vineyards we had spectacular views while being kissed with sunshine.

Despite our guide giving us tastes of many wines that we did not taste as part of the tour, I only bought one bottle as the prices did not seem to give me what I felt was a good value. That said, it might be a nice place to return to in the future as they have a hotel on site and offer wine tasting classes to their guests, I am not sure if they have an English option, but it might be worth investigating.

As it was now getting late in the day, our last stop, Dom Cândido, did not include a tour, which was OK as in one day there is only so much you can glean from multiple cellars. Instead we were able to taste their offerings for free and buy if we wished. Generally I feel obligated to buy at least one bottle wherever I taste, and here it was hard as the stuff just was not that good. The first thing we tasted was a Muscatel which was OK but I have had much better so I finally settled on a bottle of Gamay since you don’t find that everywhere and sometimes a chilled red is nice.

Now, quite tired we piled back into our van and headed to Porto Alegre. It was an OK trip, taking longer that we would have liked of course, and our driver didn’t seem to know how to leave the heat on so we were quite cold at times, but we made it. And at the very end our driver came through for us by offering Sarah and I a ride back to Bela Vista in the van that was much less costly than grabbing a cab.