Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wine Tasting at Chateau Chenonceau and Chablisenne

The Loire River
We spent the night in the small town of Amboise with its ancient castle, pedestrian walkways, rose covered houses, and colorful cafes all nestled along side the Loire River.
The next day we drove the short distance to Chateau Chenonceau, the famous castle that spans the River Cher and was the home of both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici.  We had 1.5 hours to tour the castle and magnificent gardens, and though it was raining a bit, it was still an enchanted place.
Chateau Chenonceau
Chateau Chenonceau
At 10:30 we all met in the wine cellar for a private tasting.  Called La Cave de Domes, it is in the AOC of Chenonceau and was started in the 15th century when Diane de Poitiers was living in the castle.  They have 12 hectares of vineyards in front of the estate and produce around 6,000 cases, which they sell 100% direct to castle visitors.  We tasted a sauvignon blanc, a rose of grolleau and a cabernet franc.  All were well-made, and served with delightful appetizers of goat cheese, pork pate, and brie.
Toasting with Rose Wine at Chenonceau Wine Cellars
Tasting Rose in the Cellars of Chenonceau
After the tasting, we climbed aboard the bus and drove 3 hours to the small town of Chablis in Burgundy.  We stopped halfway so everyone could experience how fancy the French gas stations are along the freeways – very large with multiple stalls of clean bathrooms, and small grocery stores and restaurants.
Visiting La Chablisenne Coop in Chablis, Burgundy
We arrived in Chablis just in time for our 3:30 appointment at La Chablisenne, one of the largest and most famous cooperatives in France.  We were welcomed by the winemaker, Vincent, who described the wine-making process and led us through a tasting of 6 wines.
Everyone was fascinated to learn about the special Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis, which is a combination of limestone and ancient shellfish.  He showed us a large sample of the soil and pointed out to small seashells imbedded in the slightly yellow rocky substance (see photo).
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablisenne was started in 1923, and today they have 250 winegrowers who sell their chardonnay must (harvested, destemmed and crushed in advance) to the coop.  Altogether they farm 1300 hectares and produce around 9 million bottles of Chablis per year.
We left Chablis around 5pm and arrived in Beaune around 6:30 to check into our hotel, the Le Panorama situated in the vineyards about a 20 minute walk from the center of the walled town.  After quickly unpacking most of us headed back into town to eat in the many scrumptious restaurants of Beaune.We  proceeded to taste through these areas starting with a 2012 Petite Chablis which was delightfully crisp, fresh and lemony.  Next was a 2012 Chablis with high acid and salty minerality.  The 2011 Mont de Milliuer Premier Cru that followed had seen 25% oak and was more complex, but the two 2010 Grand Cru’s which followed were both amazing, with layers of complexity, mineral, lemon, and a very long elegant finish.  They were the 2010 Gran Cru Blanchot and Chateau Grenouile Grant Cru.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Antique Chenin Blanc Vines in the Loire Valley at Plou & Fils Winery

80 year old chenin blanc vine
(Monday, May 19, 2014) Our next stop was a small family winery called Plou & Fils that was located in the Amboise AOC. Started in 1508, the vineyard and winery had been passed down the generations to the current general manager and enologist, Matua. He was tall, energetic, in his early 30’s, and with a great sense of humor.
He beckoned for all 31 of us to follow him up a small dirt trail to the top of a hill where their vineyards were situated. As we were walking towards an amazing vineyard of ancient gnarled vines, he told us to be careful of snakes in the grass. Everyone with sandals on jumped and several people screamed.
Arriving at the vineyard we were all mesmerized at our first sight of an 80 year old Chenin Blanc vines. They were on small goblet trellis system with spur-pruning, but the trunks were huge and twisted. Matua said they were not producing that much anymore and that he would probably pull them out in 2 or 3 years. We asked him not to, and Dan suggested that he craft a special vineyard designate wine from the plot.
Cellars of Plou & Fils
Cellars of Plou & Fils
Next we visited a younger malbec vineyard and saw the small “sexual confusion” orange plastic traps that are used to prevent moths from breeding and destroying the vineyard. Everyone was surprised at the name of the trap. Matua pointed out other vineyard plots in the distance, including chardonnay, cabernet franc, grolleau, gamay and sauvignon blanc. All together he has 88 hectares of vines.
Next Matua led us through the most comprehensive tasting of our trip, in which we tasted over 15 different wines. He started with the reds, and I found several cab franc/malbec blends that I enjoyed and purchased. Then we moved onto other varieties. One of the highlights of the tasting was a rose called Milady made from the grolleau grape. His chardonnay was also exquisite, along with all of the sparkling Chenin blancs. Again the prices were very reasonable, so everyone purchases several bottles at prices of only $5 to 8 euros per bottle.

Wine Tasting at Plou Vineyards in the Loire
Wine Tasting at Plou Vineyards in the Loire
As we were departing we asked Matua about his marketing and sales strategy. Amazingly, though he produces 360,000 bottles (30,000 cases), he sells 50% direct to consumer from his tasting room, and the other 50% direct to trade via trade shows and wine competitions. He’s obviously doing very well!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Visit to Chambord Castle and Caves de Vouvray

Chambord Castle in Loire Valley
(Monday, May 19, 2014) We departed Paris promptly at 8am and arrived at the castle of Chambord around 10:15.  Everyone was awestruck at the grandeur of the “hunting palace of the kings” with more than 400 rooms.  After touring Chambord, we drove a short 15 minutes to the town of Blois where we had time for lunch and witnessing the amazing mechanical dragons that emerge from the Hudini building on the square of the Chateau.
Next we drove about 40 minutes to the charming village of Vouvray where we had an appointment for a tour and tasting at the Caves de Vouvray.  This is a large cooperative with 35 winegrowers, producing around 416,000 cases of Chenin blanc wine per year, with 90% of it being sparkling (cremant).
Tour of Caves de Vouvray
Tour of Caves de Vouvray
We were quite impressed with the 2.5 miles of “tufa caves” where the wine is stored, and enjoyed the clear explanation of the winemaking process.  All the cremants are made in the traditional method with primary fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks for 6 months, then secondary fermentation in bottle, but only for 1 year.
We were surprised to learn that they still hand-riddle (3 week process) more than 50% of the wine and use gyro-palates for the rest (one week process).  Amazingly they charge the same price for both types of bottles, and admit there is no quality difference.  We could only surmise they must have some good riddlers that they want to keep employed.
Vouvray Sparkling Wines
Sparkling Loire Wine
Here we received the best explanation for the difference in the terms “Petillant” which is sparkling wine produced with less bubbles because less yeast and sugar is added to the bottle; whereas “Mousseux, which has double the number of bubbles (more similar to Champagne) has more yeast and sugar added to the bottle.  We were told this winery specializes in the production of Petillant Chenin Blanc wine.
This large coop only exports 10% of the production, and sell the rest via their tasting room, trade shows, and through other wine channels in France.  Back in the tasting room we had a delicious tasting of 4 of their wines, and were able to experience the difference in bubbles and mouth feel between the sparkling Chenin blanc “Petillant” vs. “Mousseux,” with the latter definitely having more bubbles than the former.
The tasting room was large with an excellent selection and very reasonable prices.  Everyone stocked up on Loire Valley chenin’s, cab francs, roses, and sparklings for only $5 to $7 euros per bottle!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Snapshot of Loire Valley Wine Statistics

Castle in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is about a 1.5 hour drive south of Paris and stretches 800 km (approx. 500 miles) from the east in Sancerre to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the longest wine region in France. With a continental climate, the vineyards are greatly influenced by the effect of the Loire River and the Atlantic. They have a special soil called “tufa”, which is a type of soft yellow limestone. Many of the castles and caves of Loire are made from this stone, and it can be found in many vineyards along with some clay and small pebbles.

Grape Varietals and AOC in the Loire Valley

The signature white grapes of the Loire Valley are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, whereas the signature red grape is Cabernet Franc.  However, other varieties can be found here as well including Muscadet, Gamay, Grolleau, Chardonnay, Malbec, and others.  The Loire Valley is the largest white wine producer in France, with 52% of their production being white and 26% red.  At this time, there are 63 AOC’s in the Loire.

Number of Wineries and Vineyard Hectares

According to the Vins Val de Loire ( there are 7000 winegrowers, with many of these being small family producers.  In addition, the Loire Valley has around 100 negotiants and 24 coops. The wine industry here provides 33,000 direct jobs for France.

The Loire produces around 400 million bottles (33 million cases) of wine per year making it the 3rd largest producing wine region in France.  They have 70,000 hectares of vineyards.  Annual wine revenues are 1.2 billion euros, of which 220 million is received from exports.

Map of Loire Valley Wine Regions
Sparkling Production in the Loire – Pettillant Vs. Mousseaux

Interestingly, many people may not realize that the Loire Valley produces a large amount of sparkling wine (cremant), and is the 2nd largest producer behind Champagne. Cremant wines in the Loire can be made from chenin blanc, chardonnay, and even red grapes such as gamay and cabernet franc.

Loire cremants are differentiated by the terms “Pettillant” and “Mousseux.”  Pettillant is sparkling wine produced with less bubbles because less yeast and sugar is added to the bottle; whereas “Mousseux, which has double the number of bubbles (more similar to Champagne) has more yeast and sugar added to the bottle.

Sweet Botrytised Chenin Blancs

The Loire Valley is famous for its late harvest and botrytised Chenin blancs from such famous areas as the Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray. These amazing sweet dessert wines have exquisite acidity and can be aged for years.

Unique Loire Valley Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc

Garden in the Loire Valley
Cabernet franc from the Loire Valley tends to be lighter in color with raspberry, violet, and earthy notes. They are distinctive and delicious.  Some of the best come from the AOCs of Chinon and Bourgueil.

In the far Eastern section of the Loire lays the famous hill town of Sancerre where they create one the most exquisite sauvignon blancs in the world.  The nose smells like a field of spring flowers and grass, while on the palate notes of grapefruit and mineral shine through.  Other regions known for sauvignon blanc include Pouilly-Fume and Touraine.

Loire Rose & Muscadet

The Loire Valley also produces different types of delightful roses that range from bone dry to fruity and slightly sweet. These are primarily made from cabernet franc, gamay, and grolleau, or sometimes a blend of these.  They make a wonderful drink as an aperitif or a refresher on a hot day, and are reasonably priced.

White wines from the Muscadet region of the Loire near the Atlantic are crisp and refreshing. Made of the Melon de Bourgogne grape, but generally referred to as Muscadet, they are great with oysters and other types of seafood.

Great Prices for Loire Wine

In general, wines from the Loire are a good value, often ranging from $5 to $7 euros per bottle. However, some of the more serious cabernet francs from Chinon and Bourgueil or late harvest Chenin Blancs from Cote de Layon or Vouvray may be more expensive, but they are still a great deal compared to comparable wines from other regions of France.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Lazy Sunday in Paris – Visits to the L’Organerie and Relaxing in Parks and Cafes

Sunday was a free day, so some people slept in, whereas others jumped in the metro early to arrive downtown before all of the crowds. It was a perfect sunny day with blue skies, and all Paris seemed to be enjoying the balmy May day.

Janeen and I took the metro to l’Organerie in order to see Monet's famous lily pond paintings.  When we arrived around 10 in the morning, a wonderful French band was playing in the plaza in front of the gates.  We decided to stop and dance a bit before heading into the museum. I enjoyed the music so much, I bought the CD.  The name of the band is Yordan.

I hadn't been to l'Organerie in years and was very impressed with the renovation.  We had the place almost to ourselves, and it was very moving to wander through the oval rooms where Monet's huge last masterpieces are hung.  There was a reverent feeling in the air, like we were in a cathedral, and we whispered when discussing which was our favorite water lily scene.  These paintings were Monet's last gift to France before he died, and it broke my heart to learn that for many years no one visited them because they thought they were out of style.

Another wonderful surprise for me at l'Organerie were the many other collections of Impressionist works that are now housed there.  We spent another hour enjoying paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, and other famous artists.

Afterwards we walked across the Seine and wandered around the back streets before taking the metro to the Luxemborg gardens where we relaxed by the pond.  The garden was filled with people taking in the sun and flowers, reading books, children playing, and it seemed all of Paris had come out on this beautiful day to savor life.

Later we found a delightful cafe where we were lucky enough to snag a sidewalk table.  We ordered the 3 course meal of the day, and then sat there relaxing, drinking wine, and watching all of the people walk by with their cute dogs and fashionable clothes.  It was one of the highlights of my trip, and a dream come true to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon at a sidewalk cafe in Paris for three hours.

We started with a half bottle of Sancerre that we had with a fresh green salad complete with chevre.  The main course was tender chicken served with spring vegetables and melt in your mouth mash potatoes.  We had this with a half bottle of Chinon cabernet franc.  Dessert was fresh fruit with cream that we enjoyed with tiny cups of espresso.

Eiffel Tower, Paris Farmer’s Market, Walking Restaurant Tour and Dinner in Montmarte

Saturday we were each given a metro pass for the day.  The first stop was the viewpoint overlooking the Eiffel Tower – an inspirational way to start the day. Next we went to a small farmer’s market and flea market in the Marais District.  This was followed by a walking tour of wineshops and 3 restaurants.

The afternoon was devoted to free time, but we met again in the evening to take the metro to Sacre Coeur – the lovely white church on the hill tops of Paris.  The view was amazing.  Our celebration dinner was held at La Cremaillere Restaurant in the Montemartre area just a short walk from Sacre Coeur.  Here was had 3 courses with wine.  Later we took the metro to view the famous Moulin Rouge, and then visited several nightclubs in the area where we enjoyed dancing to a band that played old rock & roll music.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tasting Champagne at Krug in Reims, France

After lunch in Reims at a small sidewalk cafe where I had a fresh green salad with huge slabs of foie gras, we went to the House of Krug, which is located on the outskirts of the downtown area.  Though not an official tasting room, we were received with warm cordiality by Julie and Mylene, both in charge of Hospitality and Public Relations.

Our delegation was divided into two smaller groups and we were escorted through the cellars where we saw the barrels in which Krug ferments the base wine before transferring to stainless steel tanks to finish.  Next the blends are concocted, with usually over 100 different lots combined to create the amazing explosion of fireworks on your palate that Krug delivers.  Finally the wine is transferred to bottle where it undergoes secondary fermentation for as long as 7 years.

We passed long tunnels filled with riddling racks, because much of Krug is still hand-riddled.  The storage racks of dusty bottles, including many magnums brought sighs of longing from everyone.  We were especially impressed with the wine library that exhibited Krug Champagnes going back to the late 1800’s.

After the tour we relaxed in a salon with a glass of the Krug Grand Cuvee ($150 euros per bottle) and learned more about the story of Krug and how he started the business late in life with a focus on producing the highest quality Champagne.  We were allowed to see his diary and how he described his vision for the House.

Next we were escorted into the gardens of the chateau where four tables were set up under umbrellas to shield us from the bright sunny day.  The garden was exquisite, filled with flowers and green grass, and a perfect location for a tasting.

Mylene led us through the analysis of Krug Vintage 2003 ($200 euros) and Krug Vintage 2000 ($200 euros).  It was fascinating to taste the clear difference in these two wines, with the 2003 exhibiting strong structure, clear notes of brioche and red fruit, as well as an intriguing spice and pepper component.  The 2000 was in sharp contrast with lemon, flowers, and a dancing elegance on the tongue.

Next we tasted the Grand Cuvee again, and it was clear to everyone how the glory of the blend created a symphony of taste, whereas the single vintages were more like a smaller quartet.  The whole tasting was extremely enlightening, and were we able to understand the importance and art of blending in Champagne.

The highlight of the tasting was when Oliver Krug joined us in the garden and described his philosophy of winetasting and the meaning of Krug. He emphasized it was for enjoyment of life, and not to get hung up on all of the technical details.  However, he admitted that many loyal Krug customers still asked for information on the various vintages and percentage of varietals in the Grand Cuvee.  Therefore, they had just released a new Krug app for the IPhone as well as a bottle identification number so that customers who were interested could look up the details of their bottle. Even more fascinating was the fact that app recommended music to drink with the various cuvees.

As we departed from the House of Krug and boarded the bus, it seemed as if everyone was in a state of bemusement and bliss over such a fairytale visit.  It was definitely a day we will remember and treasure for the rest of our lives, with the birth of many new Krug ambassadors amongst us.

Visiting the Champagne Region - the CIVC and Domaine Gatinois

Today was a fairytale day filled with multiple glasses of exquisite Champagne.  Our bus departed Paris at 7am and we arrive in Epernay for a visit and tasting at the CIVC.  It was extremely informative, and we learned of the huge trademark protection issues the Champagne brand battles around the world.  This concluded with a delicious glass of 2004 Moet & Chandon.

Next we walked down the street for the mandatory photo with Dom Perignon’s statue before driving to Ay.  This small village is world-renown for it’s Grand Cru status and perfumed pinot noir.

We were honored to meet with the owner and son Louis of Domaine Gatinois, where they focus on crafting fruity but highly structured Champagnes from the pinot noir grape.  We were fascinated to learn that Louis, who appeared to be in his late twenties, is the 12th generation of the family to work at the Domaine.  We relaxed in their beautifully appointed tasting salon complete with sofas, fireplace, and a grand piano while tasting the NV Reserve Brut and NV Reserve Rose.  Both were exquisite and matched the house style perfectly – fruity yet structured.

Back on the bus, we made a short stop to walk in the vineyards outside of Ay.  Everyone marveled at the low guyot trellis systems and high-density plantings of around 9,000 vines per hectare.  We noticed the small pieces of white chalky rocks mixed in the soil, and realized it was the famous chalky soil of Champagne.

Arriving in Reims we had a couple of hour to have lunch in the many cafes, as well as to visit the famous gothic Reims Cathedral.  It was cool and dark inside, except for the magnificent stained glass windows.  Everyone was quite impressed with the unique Chagall windows, which glowed with Impressionistic splendor in the dim light of the arched ceilings.

Back in Paris – Visiting the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral

How exciting to be back in France again!  This time for a two-week wine tour with 28 of my wine business students from Sonoma State University.

Our non-stop Air France flight from San Francisco touched down in Paris right on schedule at 11:40am, and we were able to clear passport control, find our luggage and pass through customs with no problems.  Francy, our tour guide, was waiting to greet us, and ushered us onto a large comfortable tour bus.

It was a clear blue-sky day, and even though the temperature was only 63 F, the bright sunlight made it feel warmer.  Fortunately the traffic into Paris was not that bad, and we arrive at our hotel around 2pm to check in, take a quick shower, and then meet again in the lobby at 3pm.

We jumped on the metro, and after about a 30 minute ride arrived at Place de la Concorde. After many photos we proceeded through the Jardin des Tuileries with a quick stop in the park for espressos.  Eventually we reached the Louvre pyramid, and then continued walking over the Seine and to Notre Dame cathedral.

Mass was in progress when we entered the cathedral and the singing was very beautiful.  Next we stopped at a quaint restaurant and had a 3 course meal of tarte d’ onion served with a Tourraine sauvignon blanc, baked canard (duck) and potatoes with a 2010 Bordeaux Rouge AOC, and chocolate mouse.  By then it was 8:30 so most of us caught the metro back to the hotel for an early evening.

A great first day in Paris.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Last Day in Mendoza with Visit to Achaval Ferrer

Farewell Argentina BBQ
(March 22, 2014) It was difficult to wake up after the huge Argentine BBQ at Alejandro’s house that didn’t end until 2:30am. Everyone ate so much meat and drank so much red wine that it was difficult to move.  Luckily his friends came with guitars and we sang many Argentine songs late into the night.  A truly wonderful last evening in Mendoza. 

After packing for the long flight home and checking out of the hotel, Alejandro picked me up at noon and we drove to Achaval Ferrer Winery in Lujan where we had a 12:30 appointment.  Neither one of us had visited this winery before, but it has such a great reputation in the US – especially with Wine Spectator – that I was curious to see it.  So we booked as tourists.

We got slightly lost on the way, and I was surprised to find that such a famous winery is tucked down a dirt road with very little signage on how to get there.  But eventually we found ourselves on a tiny road, driving through the vineyards decorated with white roses at the end of each row.

Achaval Ferrer Winery is quite small, but with a large grassy lawn on which many people were relaxing at tables and drinking wine.  It is situated on a dry river bed of Mendoza, but there is a great view of the snow-covered Andes with an old Malbec vineyard (Bella Vista) right in front.

History & Vineyards of Achaval Ferrer

Our tour guide was named Julien, and he was excellent. He began with the history, explaining that the name came from two men who made their money in cement, and then started the winery in 1999.  They began by buying 16 acres of an old malbec vineyard planted in 1928 in the Uco Valley, called Finca (estate) Altimira.

Entrance to Achaval Ferrer Winery
The vineyard was very neglected, so they irrigated it a little, but when they harvested it that year, it only produced 2/3 pound per vine, or 1 bottle per 3 vines. But the wine was so exceptional that they decided to buy more old vineyards and keep the same low harvest yields. This is how they acquired Finca Bella Vista (planted in 1910), where they built the winery, and Finca Mirador (planted in 1934), SE of Mendoza.

The vineyards are planted on low guyot with cane pruning only 5 to 6 bunches per vine on 3 x 3 meter spacing.  Therefore, it looks a bit like Burgundy, but with the Andes in the background.

Today they have 115 hectares and produce 20,000 cases.  They harvest from the 3 Fincas, plus also produce a basic Malbec and a Bordeaux blend called Quimera. They usually sell out of the Finca Altimira right away.

Winemaking at Achaval Ferrer

We toured the winery, and were thrilled to see that the malbec harvest was in full swing.  Eight people manned two sorting tables, one for clusters and the other for berries after destemming.  The must was then transferred into large concrete tanks with epoxy coating.  Julien said they pick at around 28 brix, and acid is usually added. They inoculate with Bordeaux yeast and a pump over is started immediately. Fermentation temp. is high at 30 to 34C, and finishes in 10-12 days.  They are the only winery I visited that doesn’t do the long extended maceration or cold soak.  Julien said they don’t believe it is necessary because with the high temperature they extract what they need in that time.

Cement Tanks at Achaval Ferrer
The wine is pressed in pneumatic press and immediately blended, if necessary, and then put in French barrels – 100% new for Fincas for one year, then one year aging in bottle.  For basic malbec only 7 months in older barrels with 3 to 4 months bottle age, and for Quimera 10 months in 50% new.

One interesting aspect is they are experimenting with 160 liter French oak barrels that they have custom ordered.  These only hold 200 bottles, and they believe the smaller size allows more oak contact and more oxidation, which results in more well rounded, better integrated oak.  Cost of the barrels is $1500 each.

I asked what the going rate was for cellar workers, and we were told that generally employees make 5000 pesos per month, or $3.50 per hour.

Wine Tasting at Achaval Ferrer

Since the winery had sold out of most of their high-end wines, we tasted the more basic level, and then Julien was kind enough to pull a barrel sample for us.

Basic Malbec 2012 - simple, approachable red fruit with some blue berry notes.  Thinner, not exciting. Harvest at 5 tons per hectare for this wine.

Sorting Grapes at Achaval Ferrer
2010 Quimera – closed, seemed to be going through a dumb phase.  Wine was flat on palate.  30-40% Malbec (always leads), then other 4 varietals.  Different each year based on vintage.  Opaque Ruby, ripe plum nose, fresh acidity, but then flattens out on palate. No spice or character at this time. Need to try again later.

2011 Finca Mirado ($700 pesos) Opaque Purple Red. More minerality from clay soil, old world style, with less fruit, but highly perfumed.  Seemed more lot a cab franc to me.  Violets, raspberries.  Thinner, less concentrated.  A little disappointing for the price.

2013 Finca Bella Vista ($90 US)  - barrel sample.  Magnificent!  Finally found a wine here that impressed me, but far too young.  Raspberry, velvety.  Great concentration.  Would enjoy tasting this again in a few years.

2012 Passito Malbec – sweet, fun dessert wine with loads of blackberry syrup, dried fig, and spice. $28

As we departed Achaval Ferrer for the airport, I was glad we had ended at this winery with its magnificent view of the vineyards and Andes.  Pure Mendoza.  Alejandro hugged me at the airport, and then I started to long trip home to San Francisco.  This included 2 airplane changes, with a 2 hour stop in Santiago, Chile, then a 4-hour layover in Miami, before arriving home 22 hours later in SFO.  However, all flights were on time, and I had a business class seat that I had upgraded to, so all was smooth flying.

Farewell to Argentina

Wines from Farewell Party in Mendoza
I feel incredibly grateful for my two weeks in Argentina, where I met some of the warmest and most fun-loving people I know.  There is so much graciousness there, with a love for the land and life, which is echoed in the wine, food, and music.  Argentina will always hold a special place in my heart.  Thanks to the Fulbright Scholarship, the University of Cuyo, and all of the wineries and other organizations that made my visit so magical.