San Rafael – Visiting a Newfoundlander’s Winery in Argentina


Following our comically devastating day of trying to get from Mendoza to San Rafael we needed our luck to turn around.  Fortunately I had been in contact with a wine representative from St. John’s who carried Chayee Bourass, a winery in San Rafael and she put me in contact with the owners.  I was eager  to visit this particular winery since it was owned by Newfoundlandlers who had fallen in love with the San Rafael wine region a few years prior and acquired land neighbouring the Chayee Bourass Winery.  Eventually they bought the winery itself from the family who owned it, but kept the family on as the wine makers.  There are two special things to note about Chayee Bourass: The winery only makes wine from the Bonarda grape which is typically only used as a blending grape in Argentina, and the wine is only sold in Canada.  Even Argentinians cannot get their hands on it.

Because the owners were not in Argentina at the time of our visit they put us directly in touch with their wine maker Jose so that we could arrange a visit.  We were fortunate for the wine maker’s generosity as he immediately offered to pick us up at our accommodation and drive us to the winery.  This was a good thing since we had originally intended on biking to the winery, but once we calculated the distance we realized that it would have taken us all day just to reach the winery from our hostel.

Biking past the vineyards

Biking past the vineyards

Jose, the son of the winery’s original owner has been making the winery’s wines since it’s purchase by the new owners.  After having done numerous tours in Mendoza of much larger estates it was fun to visit a more boutique style winery with the wine maker himself providing the tour.  As I am a bit more versed in wine making then Steph, I greatly enjoyed his analogies while explaining the wine making process.  I particularly liked it when he said “wine is like a joke, if you have to explain it to someone it’s not working”.  We also discussed the challenges ahead for him and his fellow wine makers as the region was experiencing endless days of rain far more common to Newfoundland and Vancouver than to Mendoza.

We sat down for a tasting in the winery’s small but beautifully decorated tasting room and tried their three wines: Bonarda Reserve, Classico and Rose.  I asked about the logo of the owl used on all their wines and he explained that ever since they had started making wine, a snowy white owl had made its home in a tree overlooking the vineyard and had in a way made him (or herself) part of the winery’s family.


Speaking of family, during the tasting Jose’s dad came in and looked a little surprised at the sight of myself and Steph sitting at the table. He asked Jose to join him outside and a few moments later they both returned laughing. At that moment the truth was revealed that during our correspondence he thought that Marieke, a name he had never heard before, was a man’s name.  Furthermore when he asked me if anyone was coming with me I had simply referred to Steph as my “travel partner” and not by name. He had managed to hide his surprise quite well when he picked us up, but had not yet had a chance to explain to his father who was finding the situation quite funny.  He translated on behalf of his father that they had been expecting two men and instead found themselves with two beautiful women (Argentinians really know how to make a girl feel good).

Private wine tasting San Rafael

What I didn’t admit to Jose was that after he had written me the first time I had looked him up on Facebook so I would recognize him when he came to pick us up since various people were coming to and from our accommodations. I found one matching result with his name from Mendoza, a winemaker in his late 50s early 60s so I assumed that it must be him.  So I too was equally surprised when a much more youthful man with extremely good English had shown up to our door to take us out for the day.

Determined to let us taste all his wines at their best, Jose insisted that we take the remaining wine so we could taste them a few hours after breathing so that their true characteristics could shine through.  There were no complaints from myself or Steph on this point.  After a few hours slipped by in the tasting room Jose drove us back to our hostel.

Jose sending us off fully stocked

Jose sending us off fully stocked

The next day Steph and I packed up the left over wine and rented bikes to explore the vineyards of San Rafael.  Because it was a Sunday not many wineries were open.  We also struggled to find a spot to enjoy the picnic of artisanal olives, cheese and salami that we had bought along the way. We finally snuck over a barbed wire fence and sat by a less than appealing stream to spread out our picnic.  At least we were enjoying the shade and the remains of Jose’s wine.
At 5pm we returned the bikes and headed to the bus station.  Our next stop was 24 hours north to meet Steph’s friends Rita and Eddie in Salta for the ultimate road trip…

For anyone who wants to try Chayee Bourras wine it will be available at my restaurant The Twine Loft this summer 

More pics from our day…

Murville Bodega

A winery open on Sunday!

Ciclovia in San Rafael

Steph was pretty stoked there was a ciclovia or “cycle way” for us to ride on!

Olive oil store in San Rafael

Purchasing eggplant and olives for our picnic

Bike wine tour in San Rafael

Wine analogies

Wine analogies

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