Behind the Vine Interview: Myfanwy Turner & Adam Stern of Mendoza Wine Camp
This month we interviewed Myfanwy Turner and Adam Stern of Mendoza Wine Camp. They're blazing their own trail through the tourism industry in Mendoza and taking visitors deep into the culture, wines and history of the region like no one else. We were lucky to spend a few days with them tasting, talking and learning all about Mendoza and their new project... How and when did you guys first get into wine?
Adam: My family, who is from California, introduced me to wine at a young age, but I guess I really got into it was when I moved to Mendoza. Originally I came for the skiing, and chose Mendoza as my base to go the Andes mountains, but I quickly found myself attracted to the wine industry and the people in it. I ended up getting into guiding, and had a blast leading tours through the wine regions for a few years before starting our own tour company, Mendoza Wine Camp.
I studied French and Politics in Cardiff University, UK , so nothing to do with wine! As I was studying French I was required to do one year of my course in a French University, and I chose Bordeaux because I had heard good things about the city. That's where it all started – I was a poor student so I didn't get to try the Premiers Crus but I loved living in a wine capital, visiting wineries on the weekend and the whole culture that surrounds it.
When I moved to Mendoza I started working in the wine tourism industry straight away and took various tasting and viticulture courses. I also worked as a harvest intern in Napa for a tiny winery, loved the experience of making the wine and being on the other side. I came back with a lot of ideas!
So, tell us about Mendoza Wine Camp
M: We are a boutique tourism agency tourism agency in Mendoza specializing in fun, hands-on wine tours and wine courses. We have 7,5, 3 and 1 day tours, all with different degrees of depth. Our aim is to go behind the scenes and focus on a different part of the wine industry in each winery.
We cover everything from viticulture, to wine making, to food and wine parings. As well as visiting wineries, we have private sommelier guided tastings in the Mendoza Wine Camp house. We also just set up a tasting group called 'Mendoza Wine Exchange' to taste foreign wines, which is a great way for us to keep on learning.
We are educational – but there are no classrooms! You learn everything by visiting the most prestigious wineries in Mendoza and boutique projects far off the beaten path. Visits are with knowledgeable guides as well as winemakers and winery owners.
A: We decided to give our tourism agency an educational /informative edge because we felt – working as wine guides in Mendoza for four years – that there was a lot of information out there but people were coming out of the experience more confused than enlightened. We organize everything to make it more coherent for wine lovers – de-mystifying the world of wine for everyone and anyone interested in learning.
Also, we've built great relationships with the people in the wine industry and know which wineries are worth visiting. Seeing as we love Mendoza, we want people to leave with the best impression of the city and it's wine regions.
What is your favorite part of the industry?
M: I am a big fan of what happens in the vineyard. I find it really interesting how small changes in the vineyard drastically affect the final taste.
But what I really love about working in the wine industry is all the parts together – there's science in the winery, farming in the vineyard and then the glamor of serving, selling and drinking the wine.
Working in tourism you get see all these different parts. It's humbling to see all the people who work so hard to make just one bottle of wine and a privilege to bring the producers and the consumers together.
A: Yes, exactly. The people that work in the wine industry is also one of my favorite parts - so many different kinds of people, from sommeliers, chefs, winemakers, winery staff – just passionate people trying to bring the best out of this region – it's exciting.
I would also have to say that tourism and what we do, is my favorite part, I like the idea of de-mystifying wine. Once you take the 'fear' from people they really start to enjoy it with growing confidence – it's nice to see that.
Why did you choose Mendoza to start your wine camp?
A: Mendoza has been called many things - the Napa of the 70's – which I'm not sure about, as it has it's own uniqueness, and also the wild west of wine-making. I guess you could also say that about wine tourism here too – a lot has changed in the last 10 years. One thing is for sure, there is a lot of energy in Mendoza – a mix of locals and expats who have chosen Mendoza as their home who are together making a new name for Mendoza. It's nice to be part of that.
Also, Mendoza's just a great place...especially if you're interested in wine and want to learn. Almost everyone works in the wine industry, so you make friends with winemakers, sommelieres and marketing people who give you invaluable no-nonsense insights!
Being on at the forefront of the wine tourism in Mendoza, what are your thoughts about where it’s heading?
A: I see Mendoza moving from strong to stronger, the culinary movement has picked up pace – now there are a lot more new and interesting restaurants and the wine service is stepping up to be on par with international standards. There is still a lot to do though. I think Mendoza needs to keep going on its own innovative and original route, and not fall onto the path where everybody does the same – we need diversity!
M: I agree with Adam, but continued support from the government for small tourism agencies is also important.
What advice do you have for wine travelers to Mendoza?
A: Visiting Mendoza wineries is not like Napa where you can just drive everywhere. You need to plan ahead as the distances are quite large and you need to make reservations a few days in advance. 90% of wineries, especially in Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, will not let you in without a reservation.
M: Mendoza has a lot of up and coming restaurants so do your research – many have not appeared on the guide books or trip-advisor. Be adventurous!
Besides wine, what else shouldn’t people miss when they visit Mendoza?
M: As well as being the wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza has a lot of adventure tourism – rafting, trekking – don't miss the mountains!
A: Skiing! I grew up on skis and can safely say that Las Lenas (just outside of Mendoza) is one of the best mountains in the world.
As a local what is your favorite restaurant, bar, wine shop and winery to visit in Mendoza?
FavoriteWinery – O'Fournier . Great wine, architecture food and scenery - what else do you need?
Favorite restaurant – This isn't a restaurant, but...there’s a bakery called 'La Veneciana' which (in my opinion) has the tastiest bread and empanadas in Mendoza. If you are staying in Chacras de Coria, just outside of the city center – get up early and go to La Veneciana to pick up your warm bread, 'tortitas' and maybe some fresh pasta and empanadas for lunch. (Be careful as normally well-mannered people can get aggressive with their tongs and will fight you over the last piece of warm bread).
Favorite Bar – Anna Bistro is a restaurant which has a small bar with a professional cocktail maker. They are open all day and have a delicious cocktail list. They also have a lush garden where you can sit in the summer whilst sipping to a refreshing mojito!
Favorite Wine Shop - There's a new wine shop in Chacras de Coria called Dunkler – they have a really good wine selection, a friendly owner, good prices and also a tasty deli with local produce.
Favorite Winery – I really like Renacer winery, it has a beautiful garden and the scenery in the morning is amazing. The wine is pretty good too!
Favorite Restaurant - Don Mario is the place to go for a traditional Argentine asado – and Argentine restaurant with professional waiters and traditional décor, nothing fancy just really good meat – there are two in Mendoza.
Bar – Por Aca is a bar/club in the trendy street Arisitdes Villanueva – it is loud and fun and more of a place to dance than to talk. Don't ask for anything too complicated – stick to ordering Fernet and Coke.
Favorite Wine Shop – Sol y Vino, one block from the Hyatt. They have a very helpful staff, a nice Mendocinian wine selection and lots of wine memorabilia.
And finally, What is your favorite wine quote?
M: It takes a lot of beer to make good wine!
A: Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.