By: Julia Henríquez
Photos: Demian Colman
The last rays of northern Argentina’s summer sun warm the earth and the green, surrounded by a reddish desert, reaches its maximum splendor. We have just crossed Quebrada de las Conchas and, in the distance, we spot a small village nestled between mountains. The sign in front of a majestic Mexican cactus reads, “Welcome to Cafayate.”
The place smells of earth and a unique wine produced in conditions with high altitudes and warm temperatures. At more than 5,250 feet above sea level, in the endless vineyards surrounding the square, the vines timidly poke through the earth in the early summer heat.
In the main square, typical of every colonial town, a simple architecture with straight lines mixes with colorful murals celebrating the deeply-rooted traditions of the land’s inhabitants: the grape harvest and the “serenade,” as Cafayate’s carnival is known. Arts and crafts shops showcase the ponchos typical of the region and restaurants offer Torrontés wine ice cream, a regional delicacy.
Thanks to the peculiarities of soil at this height and the minerals in the reddish earth, the Torrontés grape, white and delicate, has become an insignia of the Salta province. Here in Cafayate you’ll find out why white wine, though less famous than Mendoza’s Malbecs, deserves all the credit and recognition that it has brought to this seemingly forgotten corner of the world.
In Cafayate, time stands still and peace surrounds your every step. The dunes hidden in the mountains remind one of desert oases, but instead of water, patches of white sand dot the reddish desert. They look like tiny beaches that someone scattered as they walked. But it’s not the dunes that steal the show in northern Argentina.
Visitors to Cafayate divide their time between the beautiful landscapes and the region’s wineries, touring as many vineyards as possible (there are almost twenty in total) before recharging their batteries by enjoying life’s pleasures: travel, exquisite cuisine, and of course, great wines.
The Cafayate wineries, located between 5,250 and 7,875 feet above sea level, produce a wine of great character with a unique fragrance. Regional experts experiment with mixtures in laboratories set up amidst wine barrels until they obtain the best bouquet possible.
At the El Esteco Winery, 5,580 feet above sea level, history meets the present day in an architectural style that recalls early wine traditions, while the green, white, and red landscape vies for the attention of visitors who have come to taste the wine.
In these rustic surroundings, the luxurious Hotel Patios del Cafayate adds a touch of glamor. There, following a massage or a dip in the pool, the day’s main concern is which wine to taste.
Bodega Los Cardones offers a different choice of activities. The area’s characteristic slate stone lends a unique touch to both the flavor of the wine and the building’s unusual architecture, which pays tribute to the stony, shallow soil. Los Cardones, one of the younger wineries, offers a snack menu and tours of their vineyards. Here the vines are planted in such a way that the sun and soil bring them to maturity earlier than usual. These grapes are harvested before all others in the Calchaquíes valleys. You could say that this is where the harvest begins.
If you’re looking for luxury, Estancia de Cafayate is well suited to even the most demanding tastes. The community features a vineyard, golf course, polo field, restaurant, and spa and focuses on maximum enjoyment. The more than 1,200 acres include residential and social areas that inspire a return to the natural, gaucho way of life with added luxury and comfort.
Cafayate, a hidden treasure among the towering red hills, awaits the arrival of those anxious to visit Argentina’s unique northernmost vineyards. The surrounding warmth is the perfect companion for the crisp Torrontés wine as one admires the silent Calchaquíes valleys and time stands still each time a bottle is opened. Somehow, your visit seems too short for such a beautiful place.
How to Get There
Copa Airlines offers two flights a week to Salta from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City. The city of Cafayate lies some 120 miles from the capital of the province via Route 68. It is located in the region of the Calchaquíes valleys, famous for their reddish rock formations. Local agencies will arrange transportation and visits to nearby attractions.