Want to escape the maddening crowds ? Try North West Argentina
Close to the small town of Cafayate is a perfect example of one family’s project to create a sanctuary away from the stresses of living in a major city. This lifestyle property is in the Colalao del Valle, Valles Calchaquíes in the Tucuman Province.
The building of a Charca or lifestyle Block
When the owners bought the land in January 2011, the original idea was to build a house and – maybe – several guesthouses around a vineyard, together with a pool and some communal areas as to – maybe – turn it into a small estancia. The guesthouses could be rented out, or sold and then rented out. A concept that they had seen in Bali. They had some designs made and started planning.
There was no service at all on the land. It was used by a local family to hold sheep, horses and sometimes plant some vegetables, but it was not structurally maintained. It was virgin land. So they had to organise connections for potable water, electricity and get permissions to build.
It took several months before the services were all up and running and they could start building. By the time they started building they decided just to build a main house, a guesthouse, the vineyard, the pool and a communal area, so they could turn it into their own private chacra. However, they did all the ground work for further development putting in (underground) electricity and water availability on the whole terrain, just in case they changed their mind.
A Tour around the property
Walking up into the parking area, the former coral, towards a big Algarrobo tree in the middle, you’ll see a couple of stones at the foot of the tree: that’s where they do the Pachamama. A lengthy tradition in the region to thank Mother Earth for the good it gives, asking for a good harvest in the year to come.
Front of house
Towards the house you cross a canal that feeds the irrigation water. Here you can see metal gates are placed to guide the water to distinct areas that are planted. The visible high plants with plumes are ‘cortaderas’. Near the fence, with the neighbors on the right, they planted ‘moye’, the same bush-like plant that is around the fence on the lower part of the terrain. They grow up to 3 to 4 metres . The trees are apricot (damascos), prunes (ciruela), peach (durazno) and almond (almendra).
All along the fence on the right side are Reeds/ Caña, planted in 2016 that will grow thick in the years to come. The neighbors on that side did start a construction but it’s far from sure they will finish it. The owner is a man from the Gendarmeria, stationed in different cities in the country. They may want to sell their land, should you be looking for more space in time.
The rear of the House
You’ll find a little garden there with Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil etc. right near the kitchen. These too are irrigated with small tubes placed in the dykes, as they do all along that side of the canal. Underneath there is the septical tank. From there the residue water goes to a 6 meter deep cement well, at the back side of the parking lot.
The House Itself
From the roof, you get a great view of the Finca and can view the size of it which runs till the river. Looking towards the river, you see the big Alamo-trees on the right side; a few of which you may want to take down. They had to cut quite a few to make room for the houses and vineyard. The wood from these were used for furniture and gates. You can see the dunes crossing the land and the swimming pool just in front of it, with the reed-terraces behind.
On the roof is the water tank, the DirecTV antenna, the wifi router and an IP-camera which they use to check on the property when they are away. The roof has a layer of cement, so it’s good to walk on. On top of that is a layer of special textile for protection; tiles or a solar panel system could easily be place on top of this.
Inside is an open plan kitchen and living on your left. A 125-liter electric boiler supports the hot water system. The gas comes in bottles, placed in a small extension near the kitchen. The drinking water comes straight from the tap, with good pressure. Seated in one of the couches you get a great sense of what it is like living here…. the views are amazing. All windows have fly screens fitted.
The office or 2nd bedroom has spectacular views as well, overlooking the vineyard to the mountains beyond, just as the master bedroom, which has a walk-in closet. In the hallway is a separate toilet; at the end the bathroom with shower and bathtub. You will notice the beautiful cardon/cacti that was used on the woodwork for the cabinets.
They use electrical heaters with thermostats to warm the house in wintertime. Should you want to place a burner or a solar system that is of course possible. There is plenty of wood and sun to get any system going.
The houses are all built with large locally made adobe-bricks, cement/iron pillars above a foundation of stones/iron/cement/beams (cyclopeo). The construction is solid and approved and checked by an engineer. The many pillars stand at 1 meter deep.
Living in such a place with a wonderful climate means you spend a lot of time outside. In the morning maybe the terrace on the backside, later on, the terrace facing the vineyard, counting Colibris in daytime or the stars at night. Or watch the lightning on the mountains, far away above Tucuman city.
Going out the backside to the left, you’ll find a big cement tile under which is the inspection room for the sewage from the bathrooms and kitchen. Inside the barn, is all the equipment needed for the finca. All machines have been regularly serviced and work well. The Honda lawnmower was bought only in December 2015. They send the equipment for maintenance to the dealer in Salta with a local transport company – a flete. The barn could easily be turned into an extra guesthouse, as plumbing, water, electricity are nearby.
The guesthouse could be the perfect model for more to build. There is space to cook, it has a 55-liter electric boiler. The furniture in here is made from Alamo-trees on the finca. Again, see the cardon-wood used on the cabinets.
The vegetable garden can be extended in whichever way. As a matter of fact they used many other parts of the Finca to grow pumpkins, zucchinis, and melons. Eggplant, onions, cabbages, carrots, basil, coriander etc. all grow well and tomatoes of course, until June!!
Trees & expansion vineyard
The trees you find on the south side of the house and along the south side of the vineyard are figs, pomegranate, hazelnut, almond, apple, pear, caqui and a young walnut in front of the two huge walnut trees.
Where there are trees, you could also extend the vineyard. All along the south side. It would be the most logical location for this expansion.
In the southwest corner is the entrance of the irrigation water, about 1,2 million liters every 23 days. A massive amount, enough to irrigate all on the upper level, even if you extend the vineyard. Over there you’ll also see a few metal gates on the stone floor near the yellow jasmine, marking the entrance of the drinking water.
A new irrigation system is on its way, using pressurised water through tubes placed in the present day canals. With that each finca will possess much more water and can irrigate more frequently. So far no dates are given for the construction to start.
All along the south side Reeds were planted in 2016, these will grow fast and form a closed row in time. They can be cut for use when wanted. Against the fence, sometimes functioning as a fence, is the ‘moye’, the same plant as put near the fence at the entrance.
Next door a large house is under construction. The tiny house next to it belongs to a nice family that keeps an eye on the finca, and sells the goat cheese that they make. The parents live up in the mountains with a few family members and make the trip down once every 1-2 months. In the house live a few of their daughters who work in Cafayate/Colalao. When their parents are there we sometimes let their horses eat the grass on the lower level of the terrain.
Pool and terrace
The pool speaks for itself. It’s great. To look at and to swim in. We cover it with a plastic with air bubbles that heats up the water in daytime and keeps it warm at night. At the same time, it protects the water from debris falling in. The pool is utilised from early October to May.
In the far southeast corner of the upper level is the reed plantation. Some which were cut last year is still there, to be used for a roof or some dividing walls somewhere.
Going over the dunes onto the lower level, which has been checked for suitability to build there. As on the upper level, it would be wise to keep the floor level a bit above the ground so irrigation water can pass. Wooden constructions on poles might be an idea as well.
It can also be used to extend the vineyard to the lower level. For that to work, it would be wise to drill a small well. At about 11 meters there should be good sweet water. The engineer Juan Goitia of nearby bodega Las Arcas can make it all happen. He did the vineyard on the upper layer as well.
Other options would be horses, lama or sheep. The Algarrobo wood you find here will get you through many asados/bbq’s.
River Santa Maria
If you come do walk up the river if possible to the other side. The views are great and the sense of the absolute immensity of the valley can really settle in. Once on the other side, you can walk for hours.
It’s work. And it depends on what quality of grapes you want, how much work it is. They have always aimed for a high quality. The most important time is the poda – the pruning – which is done in the second week of September; as late as possible. That is the time when you form the plant, check on it’s potential and if needed replant one or two from the nursery.
They use a system of cut off tubes to restrain the water coming into each row to make sure the soil absorbs as much water as possible. It’s a system very much like they use in the rice fields. The plants have developed deep roots and are powerful. To prevent the growth of grass and undergrowth they try to cover the space below the plants with a thick layer of cut grass mulching. At the end of every 5th row there is a tube to irrigate the East side.
To keep the ants out they spray a bit of a product named ‘clap’ after every irrigation. (It does not kill them, it only tells the ant-soldiers that an enemy is coming). They try to prevent using other products. So they are not officially organic, in practice they are. (All official ‘organic’ farms use the same product because it’s hard to win the battle against ants some years).
The vineyard is inscribed in the register of the INV, the National Institute for Winemaking. They are also members of the Chamber of Bodegas and Vineyards of Tucuman.
The houses were painted in 2016. The pool needs a yearly paint touch up. Every 23 days there is the irrigation water that needs to be taken care of.
Wintertime is the time to cut and prune trees, give the fences some paint, prepare the soil, do the things that you do not have time for when the season starts.
September: Prune the vineyard. After that make sure the plants grow the way you want them.
October-March: thinning leaves, further pruning to select the quality/amount of growth you are looking for.
Apart from the vineyard: cut grass, maintain plants, vegetable garden etc.
Internet: Glass fiber cables have been put along the Ruta 40, but are not turned on yet. Together with a company from Santa Maria they have put a tower on the terrain with antennas pointed towards Salta and Tucuman. Two different providers, managed by a Santa Maria company.
Power: There can be an occasional power cut, but that usually lasts only several hours. I think they had about 4-5 cuts last year. Not enough to put a generator up.
Solar: There is a company in Cafayate that can set up a solar system should you want to. The German owner used to work with bigger companies in Chile.
Sound interesting? This property is now for sale. You can see more information here.
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