From within the trees, we heard a pitched scream.
“Sh*t,” I muttered, dismounting my horse in a single leap and running up the dry embankment to the cluster of trees.
Moments earlier, we had been riding along a dry riverbed at the bottom of a steep ravine.
The horses in Northwestern Argentina tend to be a docile lot, respectful of the fact that up beyond where the pavement ends, that which is not useful, is dinner.
But the horse in question – a beautiful roan mare – had not been particularly eager to leave her paddock for a ride several hours long under the summer sun, and when the distant sound of a tractor firing up echoed through the ravine, she had been startled, bolting up the embankment towards the aforementioned cluster of trees with C, a steady but inexperienced rider clinging to her back.
I made it up the embankment to find C on the ground, shaken and bruised, but otherwise still very much among the living.
Wiping away the tears from the shock, she stood back up. The mare had not gone far; it stood close by with its head bowed sheepishly. (That which is not useful, is dinner.)
After a first fall, a novice rider can be understandably reluctant to get back on.
But in the ravine, beyond where even the aforementioned tractor could make it, there wasn’t much choice.
C got back on her horse, took a deep breath, and said “I’m all right. We can keep going.”
The rest of us exchanged glances.
It’s a tradition in our family to bring prospective wives or husbands or even just good friends out to our ranch high in the pre-Andes mountains for what’s known as “The Gualfin Test.”
The test is not whether they fall off their horse, or get nauseous riding over the dirt-track roads, or succumb to sun stroke, altitude sickness, or the intense amount of meat they will be expected to consume.
The test is whether they immediately demand to be driven six hours to the nearest city for a hot bath, air conditioning, and room service.
It takes a certain kind of character to look at the ruggedness, the isolation, and the occasional discomfort as a price willingly paid for the beauty that is gazing up at a night’s sky sparkling with more bright stars than you’ve ever seen before…
…for the awesome site of mountains and valleys that seem to stretch into the infinite…
…for the sense of adventure that you get setting out on horseback to explore parts of the property no one has yet seen
That’s the Gualfin Test.
We thought back to this test, earlier in the week when we prepared for the last few shipments of wine (if you haven’t received yours yet, it’s being packaged right now).
Launching a wine club with some of the most complex wine in the world was a gamble that plenty of self-described experts told us NOT to do.
Said the experts: “You have to either sell bulk wine so cheap they won’t care that it isn’t great, or you have to sell wine with labels that are so famous no one would dare complain even if they don’t like it…”
But the vineyards of the Calchaqui, sitting out there at the very edge of survivability, can’t produce bulk wine. And the men who run them have little interest in labels, famous or otherwise.
All they can offer is a wine with a bold, complex taste quite unlike any other on Earth and an aroma that howls with personality like the fall and winter winds roaring across the high desert plateaus.
We’re glad to see that the vast majority of you find these wines just as spellbinding as we do.
Just the other day, member Clive wrote in to tell of how, after 40 days of Lenten abstinence, he enjoyed his first bottle (the Sunal Illogico) with an Easter feast of lamb. The wine also paired well, Clive continued, with a dessert of dark chocolate and macadamia nuts. He concluded:
“Thank you for making the wines available to us. No dealing with middle men is a relief. Drinking a good bottle for special occasions makes our lives richer.”
However, last week we did receive one request for a refund. We shrugged our shoulders – fair is fair. Out of a thousand, at least one person was bound to find these wines too challenging…
Some of our partners immediately demanded we change our refund policy – this guy was getting $300 worth of wine FOR FREE!
No, we said. The policy stays.
Think of it like a test.
Until next time… Hasta la proxima…