Algodon Wine Estates

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Moving to Argentina

Source: WSJ
By: Yvonne & Tom Phelan
12.20.2010

Editor's note: This is part of a series of travel stories in which we ask Americans living overseas, full time or part time, to profile their adopted locales and guide would-be visitors through the best the areas have to offer. Send us your suggestions at next@wsj.com.

We discovered Argentina three years ago, during what we assumed would be a brief visit to Buenos Aires. Today, we own a 108-acre vineyard outside Mendoza, a city and metropolitan area of about 800,000 people in western Argentina and our home for about 10 months out of each year.

How we came to live in Argentina is a story of good fortune, hard work—and considerable patience. Our adopted country, for all its charms, moves at its own, deliberate pace.

During our working years in the U.S. (primarily in real-estate investment), we lived in several places—California, Arizona, New York, Colorado—but never found our Shangri-La. Over time, the idea of living abroad became more appealing. We're restless and inquisitive by nature, and the chance to meet new people, be part of another culture and learn another language seemed to fit our needs.

In 2007, a three-day real-estate conference brought us to Buenos Aires. The atmosphere felt right from the start: a European-like mix of culture and numerous diversions, including, of course, the tango. We ended up renting an apartment for three months, which allowed us to explore Argentina's wine country and Mendoza.

Realizing a Dream

For decades, the two of us had shared a dream of owning a vineyard in California's Napa Valley. But by the time we reached our 60s and began investigating our dream in earnest, the five-acre property we envisioned owning and nurturing cost more than $1 million.

Mendoza, by contrast, was a revelation. Land outside the city, the unofficial capital of Argentina's growing wine industry, could be had for about $1,500 an acre (although prices have been climbing steadily since our arrival). At the same time, we found ourselves smitten with Mendoza itself: the many beautiful parks, the breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains, and the night life that spills out of restaurants and onto the sidewalks.

We decided to pursue our Napa Valley dream in Argentina.

Today, we divide our time between our vineyard, which is about a 2½-hour drive from Mendoza, and the city. As with any new business, the demands have been overwhelming at times. Between finding the right workers and staff (including a vineyard manager, an agronomist and an accountant) and the right supplies and equipment (including 40,000 grapevines, 6,000 fence posts, miles of trellis wire and a tractor), we have asked ourselves more than once: "Are we out of our minds?" Still, progress is evident: This year, we will have planted 43 acres of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay grapes.

Eventually, when the grapevines are more mature, we plan to build a home at the vineyard. For now, we live on the 10th floor of a high-rise condominium building in Mendoza within easy walking distance of all our needs. We have panoramic views of the city and the Andes, as well as all of the amenities of a luxury residence in the U.S.—at about one-fifth the cost. Our monthly outlay for rent, utilities, cable-TV, telephone and Internet services is less than $1,000.

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