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Source: Hotel News Now
By: Ellen Hoffman

In the last few years, twin booms in Argentina's tourism and wine industries have converged to launch a new trend: the emergence of approximately two dozen hotels in vineyards.

The booms were set off early in 2002 when the Argentine government defaulted on its debt and devalued its currency-from one peso to the U.S. dollar to three pesos to the dollar. The devaluation opened the floodgates to foreign investment, in many cases in wine country. Wineries both expanded their production and intensified their exports, raising the profile of the wines and creating new customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The new visibility of Argentine wine contributed to a surge in tourists whose main interest is the fruit of the vine-an increase that the National Commission on Winery Tourism estimated at 40 percent for the first half of 2007, compared with the year before.

Argentina learned that along with other niche tourism, such as fishing- or golf-related, wine tourism attracts a visitor "of the high-middle or high (economic) class, with high acquisitive power," willing to spend what it costs to enjoy the amenities, said Carina Valicati, who is in charge of promoting wine tourism for the National Institute of Tourism Promotion in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital. The government is implementing a US$2-million national plan to bolster this sector through joint efforts of the wine and tourism industries.

With the current global financial crisis, it's anyone's guess how many tourists will be coming to sleep in Argentina's vineyards in the coming months or years. But if they do come, according to statistics collected by the National Institute for Tourist Promotion, they'll be able to choose from among some two dozen vineyard hotels, virtually all built in the last five years. There are no 2008 figures, but in 2006, the government identified 22 such properties. In addition, some have opened since and others are being planned. Of the 22 identified in 2006, 15 were in Mendoza, the prime wine-growing region in the foothills of the Andes near the Chilean border; five were in the province of Salta, in the North toward the Bolivian border; and one was in La Rioja, north of Mendoza.

Although a few wineries offer rustic rooms or cabins to visitors who take the trouble to seek them out, the majority of lodgings in vineyards are boutique properties that target a luxury market. They charge between approximately $US250 and $US500 per night and offer amenities including wine tastings, full board (including lunch or dinner with wine pairings), swimming, horseback riding, massages and other spa treatments, and even golf.

To date, most have been built with private capital, and they have not affiliated with luxury brands such as Four Seasons. A case in point is Casa Antucura, the country retreat of Argentine construction magnate Gerardo Cartellone and his wife Anne-Caroline Biancheri, publisher and author of books on wine and tourism. Earlier this year, the property, overlooking vineyards, fruit orchards and the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza province, opened as an eight-suite hotel where the amenities include the owners' 8,000-book personal library and sizable collection of paintings and sculpture by the region's best-known artists.

Another example is Estancia Colomé, a seven junior suite and two master suite property about 7,500 feet above sea level in the mountains, about 120 miles outside the provincial capital of Salta. The owner is the Hess Group, a family of Switzerland-based businesses that owns the Hess Collection Winery and gallery in Napa Valley and other tourism, wine and real estate businesses.

In San Rafael, in the South of Mendoza province, a New York-based American venture capital and real estate group, InvestProperty Group, has partnered with Ricardo Jurado Jr., son of world-class Argentine golfer José Jurado, to operate Algodon Wine Estates Viñas del Golf. Currently the lodging consists of a renovated, 1921 lodge and a new annex building on a nine-hole golf course.

"We think that Buenos Aires and then the wine trail in Mendoza is going to be the thing to do" for future tourists, said Scott I. Mathis, founder of the company. They are expanding the golf course to 18 holes and planning a 50-suite luxury hotel as well as residential properties on their more than 2,000 acres.

Also planned for the Valle de Uco wine region in the Mendoza province is a 20- to 30-room hotel based on a concept that developer Michael Evans, cofounder of The Vines of Mendoza, likens to that of "a high-end dude ranch in Montana." To immerse guests in the unique culture of the area, he said, he wants to encourage visitors to "get on horses, get to an asado (Argentinean) barbeque out-of-doors, make wine, make empanadas (a pastry pie usually stuffed with meat, vegetables and spices) with the chef-and after that, return to a room with the amazing beds and services they expect" from a top hotel. The hotel-for which the owners of The Vines are seeking financing and branding-would be part of the company's larger project, which includes private vineyards and residential properties.

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