FLAVIO is not your typical winemaker. In fact, he isn’t really a winemaker at all – the affable Argentinian spends most of his time as an architect. Though from meeting him you could be forgiven for assuming that he was mainly employed as a philosopher.
“People spend too much time worrying about wine. I say, if you enjoy drinking it, then it is good,” he says.
“Someone could tell you that a particular bottle is bad. But imagine, sit and drink it with a nice girl and you have a good time – now you tell me how can that be a bad bottle of wine?”
As something of a wine wine-tasting beginner, I was relieved to hear this.
I had been picked up for my TrippyVines tour from my house at 6:45 so that we could go and collect my fellow guests – a group of five New Yorkers on holiday.
The group, in their late twenties, were old school friends from Buffalo, who had chosen Marbella for a week-long holiday.
Fortunately, they knew their wines.
And, because the regular driver was on holiday, we had the good fortune of being shown around the bodegas by Kelly Kannisto, the CEO of company.
The company runs a laid-back, flexible tour. In fact, the Americans had requested a trip to Ronda, which Kelly managed to squeeze in.
On the bleary-eyed early-morning drive up the steep, winding road Kelly told me that he and his wife had started the tour company because they wanted to get away from stressful careers.
Both South African, they moved to Spain four years ago – first living in Madrid, but then moving south for a change of pace after they had kids.
Both big wine connoisseurs, they had thought of the business during a visit to the south.
“We went to Flavio’s for a quick visit – but he just kept on opening bottles. Five hours later we left with the idea to start these tours.”
And to Kelly, the wine tour business has huge potential.
“In comparison to somewhere like South Africa, Spain is extremely laid back about its attractions. You can wander around the south without realising the cultural or historical significance of a place – because no one makes a big deal about it.
“Nine times out of ten people coming to the Costa Del Sol just go and lie on the beach. But there’s so much more on offer and TrippyVines is our attempt to make the vineyards more accessible. We wanted a more informal laid back tour than the ones that already existed.”
The first bodega on our list was Garcia Hidalgo, a small family owned vineyard, producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlots.
The owner, Miguel García Pereila, showed us around the fields before taking us inside and walking us through the production process.
The Americans, fortunately, had a few intelligent questions for Miguel over the difference between the French and American barrels the wine is stored in (the American ones give a vanilla taste, while the French barrels are apparently spicier).
After the questions we moved on to my own area of expertise – drinking.
It was around 10 am and yet there was no indication that – as I had feared – we would have to spit the wine out.
We knew that this was the first of three visits, so it was with some relief that I spied the arrival of Spanish ham, manchego cheese, chorizo, mini diced patties (like chorizo burgers) and an enormous tortilla.
The Americans attacked the table with gusto.
With our first winery out the way, and feeling elated with my new-found knowledge of wine (I assume that is why I felt so good) – it was time for a quick stop-off in Ronda.
The visit was enhanced by the evident excitement of the Americans – who approached the trip with the same level enthusiasm as a group of Labrador puppies on their first trip to the park.
But although the group would have happily spent the rest of the day gazing at the scenery from the viewing point, we had serious business to be getting on with – it was time for lunch.
The second vineyard was a bigger operation.
Bodega Joaquin Fernández, looking down on the dusty valley below, is proud producer of the Garnache 2010 – a vintage which has won awards across Spain and even abroad.
Although by this point I considered myself an expert in wine production – our guide helpfully took us through the differences in the slightly larger scale production process.
Next, we sat down to eat – in my case an excellent dish of pork chops sautéed in one of the finca’s reds – while continuing to sample the wines on offer (the Igualado was a particular crowd-pleaser).
By this point spirits were high. In fact, there was talk of getting tattoos, though the plan was held back by logistical considerations (there are apparently no tattoo parlours in the hills around Ronda).
But in any case – there was no time for tattoos, it was time for our third vineyard, which turned out to be the general favourite.
Flavio was an architect and his winery – Descalzos Viejos – is based in and around an old monastery, which had been left in ruin for 500 years before he restored and converted it.
He told us we probably knew enough about wine by this point and that we should settle down to drink it – though he also offered beer if anyone fancied a change (no one did).
Flavio grows other fruits and vegetables, including avocados and some delicious satsumas, and after a quick tour of the site – which includes the monks’ old quarters, we sat down and discussed wine and the world.
By this point the Americans were clearly drunk, and so it is fortunate for The Olive Press that I was able to conduct myself with an air of alert, clear-headed sobriety.
One was earnestly telling Flavio about his romantic dilemmas, while I also overheard another planning his new life in Spain, including the line: “Sometimes you have just have to stop existing and start living.”
After a few toasts to what seemed to have been the most successful journalistic enterprise in history – and one which I felt sure was guaranteed to earn me a Pulitzer – it was time to say goodbye to Flavio and troop back into the mini van so that Kelly – who fortunately had not been drinking – could start the journey back to the coast.
At 7pm I was dropped off outside my front door. I bid farewell to my new American friends and fumbled with my key in the door.
I knew I should have got that tattoo.