MIAM — May 2013
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The Radar Biz
Christina Lawrence

Vine Divine

At Casa de Uco in Argentina, lovers of wine from around the world can get a true taste of life as a vintner

Juan Tonconogy’s family is known in Argentina for its long history of real estate development both there and in Miami, so the 34-year-old grew up surrounded by development talk. But at age 20, while still in college, he began toying with the idea of getting into the wine business, something he had always had an interest in. “It was magical to me to see how complex the process was, and how many different wines can be produced from just one kind of grape,” he says.

Tonconogy started to learn more about the industry both by reading and by spending time at a friend’s vineyard in Mendoza. “I decided to start producing wines to export—as a hobby, to begin with,” he says. “I was still in school, it was something I liked to do, and it was a small business.”

But the small business sparked big ideas, and by age 25 Tonconogy, who now divides his time between Buenos Aires and Miami, was envisioning what he calls a “vineyard community” for more than just mere wine lovers. “I had the idea for a place where people could have their own vineyards, fully managed, without having to be experts in the field,” he says. “They could share costs and a winery, with a professional team of agronomists in charge. I thought it would be a good hobby for wine enthusiasts and those who just love nature, as well as a profitable investment.” To convince his father it was a sound strategy, Tonconogy traveled with him to Mendoza to give him a firsthand look at the quality of the grapes there and how growth was flourishing in the region. “He found it a beautiful place and he liked my idea,” says Tonconogy.

And from there it went. They selected a parcel of land in Valle de Uco about 70 miles south of Mendoza, with neighbors that include the Rothschild and Dassault families of winemaking fame as well as vintners Jacques Lurton and Salentein. “People from around the world come to this area, which is like Napa was 30 years ago when it first began to grow.” In 2008, the Tonconogys broke ground, and the first seed for Casa de Uco was planted.

It’s taken five years for it to fully germinate, but arguably has been worth the wait. Located in the Uco Valley in the southwest of Mendoza, Casa de Uco (casadeuco.com) comprises nearly 800 acres on fertile land prized for producing malbecs, one of the most famous wines to come out of Argentina—although the grape variety also includes petit verdot, chardonnay, cabernet franc, pinot noir, torrontés, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc—and where the growing conditions are considered ideal.

Property plots are being offered for those who visit the hotel and bungalows and decide they want a permanent stake. The hotel will house 16 suites in the main building, all of which offer guests a vista of the Andes mountains and vineyards. “It’s a small hotel with a wide range of services,” says Tonconogy. “We thought it was a good alternative to people having a house on the property. They can come and stay at the vineyard, enjoy the life here, learn how the grapes grow, and participate in the wine production.” To truly enjoy the place in style, guests can rent one of the three private bungalows that sit smack in the midst of the vineyards. “They’re special because you are totally surrounded by vineyards, so you have lots of privacy,” Tonconogy points out. “You can go up to the roof to relax and have a glass of wine, and then you can just walk to the main building if you need anything.” T

he hotel is scheduled to open in October and reservations are already in place for those guests who want to be among the first to get a taste of the concept.At press time, Tonconogy says, the grapes were in their second harvest. “The quality and quantity are fantastic,” he reports. “The harvest is superb.”

The family’s respect for nature’s bounty extends beyond the vineyards to its own conscious efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Natural rather than chemical fertilizers are being used on the grapes; solar panels are in place for all heating, including the water that’s used in the hotel as well as the pool; and the design of the structures themselves are what Tonconogy describes as “modern, but using natural elements.” “In the long run, we want to become an organic vineyard,” he adds.

Much planning and attention to detail has gone into the meticulous crafting of Casa de Uco, because this little piece of paradise in Argentina isn’t just about viticulture—there is a spa offering wine-based treatments, a restaurant where the menu highlights local specialties, a wine cellar, a golf driving range, and horse stables (yes, guests can ride through the vineyards). It helps that Juan’s father, Alberto Tonconogy, helms a longestablished architectural firm that has a history of developing successful projects throughout Argentina and the United States, including the One Aventura and Regatta Miami Beach condo towers in South Florida.

It’s been a long road and a lot of work, but Tonconogy’s excitement is palpable when he describes all that Casa de Uco has to offer. “I love traveling to wine countries and trying different styles of wines,” says the soon-to-be-married businessman. “That is pleasure to me, so when I travel on business, it’s really mixing business with pleasure.” In creating Casa de Uco, he’s gifted other wine lovers throughout the world with that option as well.