A story from Tempus Alba, Mendoza
We first glimpsed him standing on the balcony overlooking the array of vineyards that spread out from the impressive winery. We were visiting Tempus Alba
in the Maipu sub-region of Mendoza. We were there to discuss their work on the multitude of Malbec clones they had planted with the aim of better understanding the variety. Riveting indeed for those so inclined, but it's not why I remember the visit.
We'd had a tough first few days in Mendoza. Delayed flights, a bag stolen, sick crew, behind schedule and all the other frustrations that go with traveling. So a relaxed and casual tasting was welcome.
When he finally joined us from the balcony he exchanged pleasantries, yet not so much as to disturb the flow of our tasting. We continued. Coming to the end of the tasting our host offered us a humble lunch of home made flat bread and jamon, which we devoured enthusiastically. Considering the amount of meat we'd been consuming, it was perfect.
He then turned to us, arms spread wide and said, 'This is what life is all about. Good food, good wine and good friends'. We raised a glass and said cheers to that. We felt at home, relaxed and welcome. A nice change from the start of our voyage.
Wine is always a great social lubricant and as we drank and ate we put the cameras away and relaxed. We'd earned it. As the second glass was poured he started to open up. Prior to that, he'd sat quietly so as to not interrupt our tales of woe and questions on Malbec clones and viticultural practices. Somehow the topic of New Zealand came up and he sprang to attention. He then began to tell a tale that had me on the edge of my seat.
It turned out he was a Brigadier-Major in the Argentine air force and the first person charged with flying from Argentina to New Zealand via Antarctica in a C-130 Hercules. Now I have a confession to make; airplanes are a little passion of mine which was no doubt the result of watching 'Top Gun' too many times as a kid. I was riveted.
He was told the journey was impossible, but was convinced that with good planning and a little luck he could make it. The plane had to be equipped with extra fuel tanks and refueled in Antarctica. They had to hope conditions didn't change whilst in the air, nor when on the ground to ensure they could take off again. But all went to plan and they made the flight successfully. As a result of his mission, it proved a route between New Zealand and Argentina was possible and airlines soon followed. An impressive achievement by all accounts.
I quizzed him on aircraft he'd flown throughout his career. What were his favourites? What jets did he fly? What were they like? And then, inevitably, we found ourselves on the topic of the Falklands war. The mood changed. He bowed his head, spoke quietly and solemnly of the tragedy of the war, of the regret, the sorrow and of the pain that came from the friends he'd lost. 'Such good friends. Such a waste,' he said as he shook his head. A reminder to us all that we have so much to be thankful for.
Yet he did not dwell. He smiled and said 'Let us not talk of such sadness. Tell me of your travels.' So we did. Which then reminded us that we had a camera man with us and we should probably get some of this on film. We did and when we were done, Cam and I started to pack up and Ben continued the conversation. When finished I turned back to find this proud, handsome and remarkable man crying.
I looked at Ben with a face of 'what the hell did you just do?' only to be told quietly by our host that our Brigadier-Major had only just lost his wife of over 50 years. 'I'm sorry,' he said to us wiping tears from his eyes with an initialed handkerchief, 'It is still painful. I miss her greatly'. Just recalling this I can't help but get emotional.
I looked down at the ground for fear of making eye contact with Ben; I knew we were thinking the same thing ¬¬- of our wives and the thought of never seeing them again. It was overwhelming. I fought back a lump in my throat.
Can you blame us? We were a long way from home. It had been a tough trip and one of the hardest we'd ever experienced traveling together. We were tired and missed home and right at that moment, it was the only place we wanted to be. But we had someone to go home to; he did not.
He told us of his regret of never being home enough, he traveled too much you see. He told us he didn't spend enough time with his wife, though he loved her so much and missed her so dearly. But, he had his children and grand children who were caring and wonderful, and we should join them all for a parilla on the weekend. He wanted us to meet them. We were friends now, you see.
So what were the wines like? Did we write detailed tasting notes? What were the various Malbec clones and how many did they behave in the ground? What were the alcohol and baume levels? What was their total production? The simple answer is I don't remember. Nor do I care.
What do I remember from Tempus Alba? One of the most personal wine experiences in my limited and ridiculously sheltered life. Of the handsome patriarch who welcomed us, fed us and told us such incredible and deeply intimate stories.
What I do remember is Brigadier-Major Horacio Ernesto Genolet (R).
This was taken at the start of our tasting. Brigadier-Major Horacio Ernesto Genolet is on the far left. He was clearly observing us. Also in the photo is Mariano Biondolillo (Director of the winery)