Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 9th/10th, 2012: Ten To Midnight: Brazil Begins

Ten To Midnight
Pearson International Airport was but a fraction of its busy self when we arrived to begin our ten hour flight to San Paulo, Brazil. We had left in plenty of time to get to the airport early enough to handle the difficult SNAFU's that sometimes happens with the end result being a soul rattling, anxiety filled rush to get to your flight in time. This did not happen and most worked like clockwork but even with this, time flew fast.
Roy, Sandie and I cleared the hurdles of check-in and proceeded to visit the "watering hole" not far from our departure gate. I was quite thirsty and rather than ordering a coffee, I surprised everyone by ordering a diet coke and a Corona! Sandy had a glass of Joseph's Red and Roy had a rum and coke. We ordered a snack dip to munch on while we wet our thirst away.
On Our Way
The time of the flight was almost an ominous one that seemed more like a dramatic movie title than an actual time of departure. "Ten To Midnight" was to become a "drama joke" for the rest of the day and possibly for the rest of the tour.
Boarding call came and with the exception of a crying child that pierced every sanctified (or for that matter-- non sanctified) nerve in my brain, it looked like it was going to be a good flight.
The plane left basically on time with a slight delay due to a small dent about the size of a thumbnail found on the back of the plane. It was quickly investigated and the plane left at "Ten To Midnight"!
The flight was long but uneventful and I slept for several hours---waking up to watch part of either one of the two movies I had put on. Neither made any sense as I would wake and promptly dive back to sleep again. The flight took a route that went down the U.S. coast and then over the Caribbean Sea. We went over the Atlantic and entered the continent of South America just over the mouth of the Amazon River. We then proceeded over the Amazon Basin and then Brazilia and to San Paulo.
San PauloSan Paulo is a huge city that spreads itself for many kilometres in many directions. It is the largest city of Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere. It is also considered the sixth largest city in the World by both area and population.
Arriving with almost two hours of a wait before catching our final flight to Porto Alegre, we proceeded to collect our luggage and then go through the baggage check once again. We did have a problem in that But Brazil did not allow metal pieces such as camera stands to be taken on the plane. I thus had to go back to the "check-in" area and recheck the stand. It was a bit inconvenient but not overly a problem. Soon we were aboard the TAM Airlines flight and off to Porto Alegre.
Porto Alegre
Porto Alegre is one of Brazil's ten largest cities and is the capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul and happens to be the southernmost capital of Brazil. It was settled in 1772 by Portuguese from the Azores and later settled by Europeans of various nationalities. We were picked up by a very likable driver called Toni who quickly led us to his van and set us off to our to be home for six days, Bento Goncalves.
Bento Goncalves
Bento Goncalves was settled by Italian immigrants in the 1870's and is known as Brazil's wine capital as well as a furniture making capital. It was originally called by the native name of Cruzinha and later renamed as Dona Isabel after a Brazilian princess. Shortly after in the late 1890's it obtained its final name of Bento Goncalves.
The city quickly became a wine and furniture centre and is located in the Vale dos Vinhedos or Valley of Vineyards which is the only approved "wine appellation" of Brazil.
Through the years many European nationalities have settled here.
Hotel Vila Michelon
The hotel was a welcome site to three tired travelers badly in need of some "freshening up". The drive from Porto Alegre was surprisingly long and as we drove up the long entrance it was difficult not to notice the lovely floral display of Buganvila and other flowers. As we entered the reception area we passed by a large bowl full of grapes which turned out to be an American Labrusca variety from a root stock used for grafting vinifera vines. It probably went wild after having the original vinifera graft either get cut off or never grafted on. The taste was that of a Concord or Cayuga grape variety and reminded me of an episode when I was doing the last "Adventure in Wine Country" series in '09. At that time it was in Umbria, Italy.
We "signed in" and were led to our rooms.
The hotel's different areas was named after grape varieties. We were in the Riesling section. Our rooms were exceptional in every way: roomy, very clean and spacious. The surprise was when I opened up the room's window. It was similar to the feeling that I got when Dorothy stepped out of her house in Oz and the scene was one of splendour.
Outside the window was a world of sculpted flower bushes that melded into cut greener which melded into the hills making a superb Italian Tapestry like picture. The sounds of country filled the air : a crowing rooster, a goose honking, barking dog and the quiet breeze sifting itself through the open window shutters. The rest was quiet peace.
I showered and prepared to meet Paula Valente from Wines of Brasil in the reception lounge.
Paula Valente was immediately recognizable from her picture in Face Book. Her beautiful features showed a definite classic European heritage and her five foot six frame was that of a model. She carried herself with the dignity of friendly pride and I couldn't help but feel that Brazil was well represented.
Her warm greeting did not surprise me. "Paula!" I went to her with open arms. We had gotten to know each other on face book and she seemed an old friend. We exchanged hugs and got down to the business of formal introductions as well as the schedule.
Paula was there to get us ready for our first night on the city in Bento Goncalves. Roy and Sandie soon came over to us from their rooms and soon we were heading to a restaurant called Canta Maria, "Maria's Song" or something so similar.
Canta Maria
The restaurant looked amazingly good . It had pictures and murals on the walls. Paula ordered us a traditional Brazilian barbecue which consisted of various pasta dishes, a pasta soup, a salad display and a cornucopia of meat dishes. The food kept on coming until we said "enough"!
The wine of the evening was a local wine called Boscato Cabernet and it went exceptionally well with the food being served. The wine was enjoyed by all concerned and the wine was a perfect match for most of the dishes involved.
The meal ended with us being so full that we could hardly get to our rooms but I was quite willing to go to my room so I could finish this blog. For me the night ended in the early morning and found me going to bed around four AM.
It was a good way to begin the whole tour and if the above was super, consider all the material we still have to obtain and will likely succeed in spite of the agriculture area and fertilizer area as well as to be a rather pain of behaviour. I do hope that all this is cleared up this week end!
End of Day One!