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Argentina, here I come!

I've got this bad habit of only traveling when the trip looks "just so." I won't go on a cruise; I won't sign up for any travel agency's "group trip" - particularly, "specific" trips like "singles trips" or "short, dyed-blond-haired people" trips. Really, I don't travel unless it's grassroots -- that is, unless I've made some sort of connection with the locals before I book the trip.

Needless to say, a lot of potential travel never happens. For example, I really want to spend a week in Napa - and more so - Sonoma Valley. Though I've been to and around San Francisco a number of times, wine country's eluded my previous itineraries. Rather than get the flight, rent a car and go - I keep jockeying to find California ex-pats (now in Colorado) who are willing to back West and show me around.

So then I happen upon a native Argentinean now living in Denver - a man who grew up and who remains personal friends with vintners in the best known wine region of Argentina: Mendoza (considered the Napa Valley of South America). He puts together ski and wine trips, under-the-radar, intimate excursions one could never book on their own.
It's a little trip I plan to take.

"Andes Ski & Wine Tours  was born as a natural consequence of my background," says owner, Valentin Philippens (in a wonderful, Argentinean accent). "I am related to a number of Mendoza region ‘boutique vineyard' owners; the average tourist cannot discover these wineries unless they know someone.

"My trips are very unique and individually designed for a very small group," he adds. "I have taught skiing for over twenty years around the world, including Argentina, Vail, and Aspen, to name a few places."

Andes Ski & Wine isn't the only game in town with drilled-down, intimate travel packages - packages that involve wine, coupled with non-wine activities and involving mingling with the locals. Something called http://www.oars.com/puts (pits?) rafters together on rivers "with wine involved." And a whole plethora of "wine and bike" tours can be found simply by Googling the phrase.

But I want to discover Argentina's true wine culture, with someone I already have a personable, pleasant connection with. I want to seek out conversations about wine and the region that aren't "marketing-message-laden." The thought of skiing with someone who knows, intimately, the best runs - and best days to go, sounds more than incredible.

"We can get better rates and we can guarantee our price," says Valentin. "That's hard to do with online bookings that change and end up costing more and surprising travelers."

I'm still waiting for a Sonoma hook-up. My "dream trip" involves flying to San Francisco, renting a convertible and driving the Pacific Coast Highway - then ending up in small wineries sans any big marketing budgets. Someone recently mentioned a relatively unknown wine region outside Sonoma Valley to me - something called "Liverpool." Her mother lives there. I think I'll soon know her mother very well.

In the meantime, don't cry for me Argentina, ‘cause soon, I'll be there. Or, if you must cry, do so because I don't speak one word of Spanish.

Word o' the Week

"Vendimia" - Literally translated, the word means "grape harvest." Any number of "Vendimia" festivals are held throughout Europe and South America, when vineyards and wineries harvest grapes and celebrate wine production and culture.

One Winning Wine Tasting

Il Fornaio & Italian Wine

The Denver Wine Meet-up Group is a popular organization hosted by Brenda Frances, one of the few female wine sommeliers in the state. On Sept. 13, her group will visit Il Fornaio Restaurant in Greenwood Village for a "Tour of Italy Wine Night."

The group is open to couples, singles - anyone who likes wine and wants to learn more, while meeting new people in a casual, fun social atmosphere. Brenda is very accessible, and extremely knowledgeable about wine and is known for her ability to converse and extend information on wines from around the world.

The Denver Wine Meet-up Group hosts several wine-related events each month. For further information, click here.

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