We came to Bodegas Salentein because I wanted to see the state of the art in wine tourism in Argentina. Wine tourism is a big and growing business and I wanted to gauge its development here in Mendoza.
Wine tourism is increasingly important on both sides of the market. Many consumers look for ways to deepen their wine experience by visiting the places, meeting the faces and developing a personal relationship with wine. Producers have much to gain, too. Wine is a relationship business and meeting consumers, distributors and wine critics at the winery is an effective way to make or maintain these connections. Direct (and full price) cellar door sales are a priority, too, as well as the opportunity to exploit other revenue streams ranging from t-shirts and corkscrews to space rental for special events like weddings and conferences. (George Taber’s book, In Search of Bacchus, is a highly readable examination of this global industry.)
Bodegas Salentein provides the most complete wine tourism experience that we found in the Mendoza region. It is a world class operation and a tribute to the “if you build it they will come” school of thought. As you look at the photos here, imagine how empty the landscape would have appeared just a dozen short years ago and what a miracle it is that thousands of wine tourists now flock here each year to visit Salentein and the other spectacular wineries that followed in its wake.
You approach Salentein, located in the Valle de Uco about 90 minutes by car south of Mendoza city, by driving up the long entry road shown above. You arrive at the main hospitality center, which contains a reception center, gift shop, restaurant and Killka, a spectacular modern art museum built to display part of the owner’s collection. Another beautiful building, the “Chapel of Gratitude,” is just down the road.
Incredibly, you have not yet arrived at the winery. To get there you pass through the reception center and walk down another dramatic lane (this time through a vineyard) to arrive at one of two wine production facilities on the property. The photos here don’t really do justice to the experience, so I have embedded a short video below that includes some aerial footage — scroll down to check it out.
The winery’s architecture is even more impressive than the museum’s, especially inside, where winemaking is organized around the “cathedral of wine” barrel room, laid out like a cross around a mosaic compass rose. Entering the vast space, you really do feel like you are in a cathedral. I could hear the click, click, click of our friend Scott’s camera as he tried to capture every line and curve of the stunning building’s architecture.
Posada Salentein completes the package with a 16-room inn and gourmet restaurant that serves creative cuisine paired with estate wines. It is hard to image a better way to visit the Valle de Uco than to stay here among the vines and to exploit the restaurant menu to answer burning questions such as “how does Malbec go with fresh local trout?” (Perfectly, as it happens, based on our experience.)
Bodegas Salentein hosts 25,000 to 30,000 per year according to Lorena Cepparo, who heads the Hospitality and Tourism Business Development department. Salentein is a destination winery that is high on the hit list for every Valle de Uco wine tourist (O. Fournier is another “must see” in the area.)
The typical “day tripper” experience, according to Lorena, involves a tour, tasting of three wines and lunch at the restaurant — an appealing combination. But the basic package is just a start and can be customized in many ways depending upon the particular interests of visitors. International visitors come from the winery’s main export markets: the U.S., Brazil, Canada and the Netherlands.
The Netherlands? Well, yes. Lorena explained. The winery’s owner is Dutch (Salentein is the name of a Dutch estate) — click to visit Mundo Salentein, the ambitious Dutch website. And Holland’s Princess Máxima is from Argentina, Lorena said, so the Dutch are understandably crazy about all things Argentine. Who can blame them?
It seems to me that Bodegas Salentein sets a high standard for wine tourism here in Mendoza and, as the first destination winery built in the Uco Valley, it has inspired others to try to match or exceed their facilities and services. Bórmida & Yanzó, the local architect firm that designed Salentein, has gone on to create an incredible collection facilities here (click on the link to see what I mean). The contrast between their cutting edge architecture and the starkness of the high desert vineyards makes wine tourism here a unique experience.
But Wait … There’s More
I went to Bodegas Salentein looking for a wine tourism story and I found it. Salentein is an audacious bet on the wine tourism concept in the the relatively remote Valle de Uco.
But as I talked with Loren, COO Andrés Arena and legendary (for his work at Catena Zapata) winemaker José Antonio Galante, I began to realize there there is much much more to Salentein than the beautiful buildings and sophisticated visitor experience. Especially now that the talented Galante is on board as winemaker, Salentein’s ambition continues to soar.
Thanks to everyone at Bodegas Salentein for showing us their facilities and answering all of our questions. Special thanks to Andrés Arena, Chief Operating Office, José Antonio Galante, Chief Winemaker and Lorena Cepparo, Chief of the Office of Hospitality and Tourism Business Development.