Insider Tips from Mendoza’s Most Inspirational Women, Part One
Mendoza is a destination on the rise and it’s the passion and vision of these inspiring women that’s helped cultivate the city’s international appeal.
From a prestigious architect and renowned winemaker, to one of Mendoza’s most notable chefs and restaurateurs, and a tea sommelier, these intrepid entrepreneurs are trailblazing their way to worldwide acclaim. While interviewing each woman, I received a colourful array of insider travel tips. However, there were several recommendations echoed by all: Mendoza’s majestic mountains are the ultimate place to unplug, dining at Francis Mallmann’s 1884 is a must, and autumn is the most idyllic season to visit the Land of Sunshine and Good Wine.
If you find yourself standing in the middle of a Mendocenean winery in awe of its architectural beauty, chances are you’re admiring the work of Bórmida & Yanzón. With unprecedented originality, top architect Eliana Bórmida has designed over 30 of Mendoza’s most prominent wineries including Salentein, O. Fournier, Diamandes, Pulenta Estate. She’s also responsible for Uco Valley’s most visually stunning luxury hotel, The Vines Resort & Spa. Eliana’s distinctive appreciation for Mendoza’s breathtaking landscapes and her great respect for the region’s unique Andean culture are qualities she passionately integrates into her work.
Name one unforgettable travel experience Mendoza has to offer?
Crossing the Andes on horseback. The contact with nature is incredibly intense—the air, views, sounds, colours and sunsets. Three-day riding and camping expeditions are led by gauchos (Argentine cowboys) who guide you along hidden trails reaching 13,000 feet where you can spot herds of freely roaming guanacos, and condor nests.
What do you think is so special about Mendoza’s landscape?
Mendoza is a rare and beguiling combination of austere, dry desert landscapes bordered by towering mountains. In the middle of the desert lies a lush oasis formed by indigenous irrigation systems that give rise to tall leafy Sycamore and Rosewood trees, which protect the city with their ample shade. I am fascinated by Mendoza’s stark contrasts in colour, texture, smells and climate, and the way these elements have shaped our cultural identity.
What do you love about architecture?
Most of the projects I take on have a productive, social and touristic aspect to them. I love to create spaces that are part of the natural landscape—where a design doesn’t end at the edge of building but continues into the surrounding environment. My goal is to create a space that feels alive and can only be found in that one particular place. It’s also paramount that the final design embodies the owner’s individual spirit.
Gabriela Furlotti didn’t set out to build Mendoza’s first boutique hotel or start producing wine. Both were a consequence of trying to preserve her family’s five-acre plot of land, a farm where they’ve lived for three generations. In 2001, Gabriela debuted Finca Adalgisa’s 11 homey rooms and suites surrounded by picturesque vineyards and fruit orchards. She still lives on the property and warmly welcomes guests with personal service, authentic Argentine asados (barbecues) and fun grape harvest activities.
What would you recommend travellers do in Mendoza that is off the beaten path?
Camino de las Carreras is a spectacular road trip. Stretching from the small town of Las Vegas near Potrerillos to the winelands of Tupungato on Route 89, the dirt highway makes for a scenic hour-long drive with views of Cordon del Plata’s snowcapped peaks, working cattle farms and golden pastureland. Once you arrive in Tupungato, you’ll have the region’s best wineries at your fingertips.
How has the tourism and wine industry changed Mendoza?
What a change it’s been. When I first began transforming the farm into a hotel over a decade ago, people thought I was crazy. There were no tourist maps. Very few wineries received visitors, and the ones that did rarely had enough English-speaking staff to accommodate tours. Now we’re one of world’s top wine tourism destinations with over 1,000 wineries to visit.
What’s the secret to your success?
Passion, patience, perseverance and an enormous amount of focus and commitment. I’ve never embarked on a project for the sole purpose of making money, and I hope I never do. When you’re dedicated to your vision, the happiness is greater than the fatigue.
Trained by her mentor and partner, Chef Francis Mallmann, Vanina Chimeno began cooking at his famed restaurant 1884 at the age of 19. Every off-season, she interned in kitchens abroad from Uruguay and London to Madrid and Hong Kong. Two years ago she opened her own successful restaurant María Antonieta, for which she sources high quality organic and seasonal products to create wholesome, homemade recipes. Decorated with modern white tiles and crisp tablecloths, baskets of colourful fruit and fresh flowers, her restaurant is very much a reflection of her: natural, luminous and feminine.
Your restaurant is always packed with locals and travellers. What are you feeding them?
I think the smell of freshly baked bread lures them in. We’re one of the only restaurants in Mendoza that serves an American-style breakfast with fresh juices. Our menu is simple and highlights the freshness of the ingredients and all our pastas and breads are homemade. Some of our most popular dishes include our salads, Maltagliati with king crab au gratin, Neapolitan eggplant with burrata cheese and organic pumpkin stuffed with ricotta, cheddar cheese and baked egg.
Besides wine, what’s a good gift travellers can bring home from Mendoza?
Quince jam from the Mercado Central (Central Market).
What’s next on your agenda?
I am always designing new aprons for my staff. Many customers expressed interest in buying them so I started making extras. I also produce a line of candles made from recycled wine bottles. Someday I would love to have a full line of María Antonieta kitchenware and decor. But the big news is: I’m working on a new pizzeria that will open sometime next year right down the block.
Mendoza is Argentina’s second largest producer of organic crops, yet there had never before been a farmers’ market where health-conscious consumers could purchase sustainable local goods. In 2013, Gabriela Abihaggle and two partners fulfilled that need by creating the Mendoza Green Market—a free bi-monthly fair that works with over 60 vendors to promote a green lifestyle, responsible consumption, fresh natural food and artisanal products. Apart from delicious food and drink (think lentil burgers, fruit smoothies, craft beer, organic edibles), they offer free yoga and cooking classes, Qigong, live music and entertaining children’s activities.
What do you love most about Mendoza?
I love the range of activities offered in Mendoza without having to travel long distances. There are mountains to hike, adventure sports, wineries of all sizes with tastings and harvest activities, local chefs offering high-end gastronomic experiences and events all year long. It’s impossible to get bored.
What’s an activity you recommend that’s off the beaten track?
Origen Natural is a rare gem you won’t find in a guidebook. It’s a biodynamic farm in Los Corralitos, Guaymallén, founded 10 years ago by a young couple who wanted to become self-sufficient by living off the land and feeding their family healthy, sustainable food. Their peaceful farm is open to visitors and has a fruit orchard, garden, greenhouse, an array of animals and a beehive where they produce honey.
What do you find most rewarding about founding the Mendoza Green Market?
My father taught me that in order to make the world a better place, start with yourself. I am doing something I believe in, with people I love, and delivering value to our vendors, parks, and the community of 25,000 people who come to each event. I am a journalist by trade, so it was a huge and satisfying challenge to learn how to do something I knew nothing about. I suppose the education will continue as we scale and introduce the concept in other cities.
Cecilia Diaz Chuit
A seasoned hospitality veteran from Buenos Aires, Cecilia Diaz Chuit and her husband Martin Rigal opened Cavas Wine Lodge in 2005. They chose a vast 55-acre vineyard overlooking the Andes and designed a hotel that no matter where a guest is on the property, they have a spectacular mountain view. Part of the Relais & Chateaux collection, their boutique hotel counts 17-private villas with plunge pools and sunset terraces with cosy fireplaces. Undoubtedly Mendoza’s most romantic luxury retreat, Cavas Wine Lodge showcases a 3,000-bottle wine cellar with nightly tastings and a spa that offers wine therapy treatments like its signature Bonarda Wine Bath.
What do you love most about Mendoza?
The weather is wonderful. You can really appreciate four seasons with great sunshine. Also, Mendoceneans are so welcoming and friendly. Plus, the landscape is stunning.
What’s an activity you recommend to your guests?
Most of our guests come for the wine tasting and we send them to some of favourite neighbourhood wineries including Viña Cobos, Achaval Ferrer, Catena Zapata, Ruca Malen and Casarena. If they want to get outside, we send them hiking in Vallecitos with expert guide Fernando Daneri (Fefi) and horseback riding in Paso de la Carrera or Posta de las Aguaditas.
What’s the secret to your success?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I guess it would be a combination of things: continual learning and development, consistently focusing on quality, building the best team possible, and never ever giving up, even when there are a million obstacles on the road.
Tea Sommelier Silvina Fortuny’s two beautiful Tea & Company teahouses are peaceful sanctuaries to enjoy the ritual ceremony of tea. In a bright, airy and serene atmosphere, Silvina offers over 50 varieties of loose-leaf teas and blends, and a healthy menu of natural foods packed with nutritional power. She also serves homemade pastries and a variety of tea flavoured ice cream. A true believer in the healing properties of tea, Silvina is passionate about providing a tranquil space that encourages others to incorporate tea into their lifestyle.
How did you become interested in tea?
I started practicing yoga during a difficult time in my life and discovered it was a great way to achieve inner peace and harmony. I also changed my eating habits and began habitually drinking green tea instead of coffee. I developed a passion for tea and its health benefits. This led me to study at Rosario’s School of Tea to become a tea sommelier. I then travelled to India to be in direct contact with the plant and its production process in order to complete my training.
Do you think there are similarities between tea and wine and their respective cultures?
Yes, the two worlds have a lot in common: how one tastes them, the aromas, the flavours and the descriptors. Pairings and blends are also popular in both cultures. In fact, many wine sommeliers are great tea enthusiasts and vice versa. We even have a special blend of Malbec grapes and red fruit to highlight the most distinctive varietal of our province.
What advice would you give another entrepreneur?
It is important to love what you do. Training provides the knowledge and experience gives you the tools to do your best. Above all, it’s very important to listen to your intuition, dare to take risks at any age and to know that you at least tried. If it doesn’t work out, there’s something better on the way.