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Friday, June 13, 2014

In Praise Of The Wine Growing Region Of Argentina

8½ Reasons to Step Off the Beaten Path
International Man
by David Galland | June 13, 2014
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After coming to this scenic wine-producing valley in the foothills of the Andes on a regular basis for a decade, we decided to move here.
The move from a small New England ski town to a remote corner of Argentina generated a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances. In response, I made a list of the 8½ reasons for our move.
Reason #1: Diversifying against the damaged economies of the US and other large Western democracies.
The problems of the damaged Western democracies run so deep at this point that it’s hard to know where to start.
Maybe with the idea of unbacked currency as money?
Or perhaps with the debt? When President Obama’s first term began in January 2009, federal debt totaled $9.9 trillion, and as I write, it has topped $17.5 trillion, a 77% increase.
And instead of addressing the problem, the US government continues spending significantly more than it takes in.
Adding insult to injury, the US government and all of the large failing Western economies are attempting to divert attention from the real source of the problem—their meddlesome schemes—by attacking the productive elements of society, vowing to raise taxes to punitive levels.
And the trend is only going to get worse.
The following is from Lew Rockwell’s essay, The Triumph of Socialism.
A new BBC poll finds that only 11 percent of people questioned around the world—and 29,000 people were asked their opinions—think that free-market capitalism is a good thing. The rest believe in more government regulation. Only a small percentage of the world’s population believes that capitalism works well and that more regulation will reduce efficiency.
In response to demands that the state do more—that’s what happens when almost 50% of the populace are net recipients of government largess—government spending has been ratcheted up to previously unimaginable levels, paid for with a combination of ruinous new debt and currency debasement.
As someone with a lifelong love of history and who spends far too much time reading financial and investment reports, I find it hard to come to any other conclusions than that…
  • The fiat currency system is going to collapse, just as it has in every other instance of history when it’s been tried.
  • This time, however, we’re not talking about the collapse of a single currency. That’s because the world’s reserve system is built on the back of the empty shell of the US dollar, which means the financial shocks are likely to be catastrophic.
  • In the interim, the triumph of socialism, as Lew Rockwell calls it, ensures that the patronizing governments so many are now dependent on will do “whatever it takes” to keep the shell game going. Inflation, interest rate suppression, higher taxes, exchange controls, pension grabs, and in time, default—are all in the cards.
  • The wealth of generations will be eroded away.
While there are certainly steps a person can take in attempting to avoid the worst, history has shown time and time again that there’s only one step you can take to alleviate the biggest risk of all—the risk that your own government will destroy, or even directly confiscate, your savings.
And that is to diversify geographically… your money, your assets, and your life.
Of course, if something akin to a miracle occurs and the situation back home turns around, it’s only for the better… and our globally diversified life will have turned out to be an uncashed insurance policy.
Actually, it’s a lot better than that, because by diversifying your life into a place (or places) you love the way we love Cafayate, your “insurance policy” pays a premium in the form of a far richer quality of life.

A Quick Word on Cafayate

A few words about Cafayate, Argentina—the site of La Estancia de Cafayate, the sporting and wine-growing estate founded by Doug Casey and Juan Romero—seem in order.
The town is located in the scenic northwest of Argentina, in a valley aptly described as “Sedona, Arizona meets Napa Valley.” That’s because the town is surrounded by magnificent mountains boasting multicolored geological formations. Yet the valley floor is a veritable ocean of vineyards—a testament to the rising popularity of the excellent wines grown here.
Belying its quaint charm—complete with the traditional central plaza that serves as the heart of the pueblo—the town is a lively hub of activity for the region (except, of course, in the middle of the day when everything quiets for the siesta).
This hustle and bustle is due to two complementary factors.
The first is the burgeoning wine business, the presence of which is everywhere, starting with the large vineyards and an increasing number of bodegas.
The second is the road through the Quebrada from Salta City (about three hours away). The meandering road through stunning canyons has become an international tourist destination—one of the most scenic and important for Salta province, helping it to earn honors from the staff of Fodor’s travel guides as only one of a handful of “must see” destinations.
These two factors combine to draw visitors from around the world, benefiting the town with full employment and an array of restaurants, shops, and activities to choose from.
Sitting in a café on the plaza, you’ll be surprised at just how international this little town at the end of the proverbial road is—just as is the case with Napa Valley.
They come here to experience the scenery, to soak in the authentic local culture, and of course, to sample the excellent wines from the growing number of bodegas in town.
Reason #2: Discovering an up-and-coming wine-growing region ahead of the crowd.
There is an old adage that any place that’s ideal for growing wine grapes is ideal for humans to live. The reason primarily has to do with the weather—because to grow good grapes, you need lots of sunshine, not too much rain, and cool nights. High-quality water in abundance and a rich, sandy soil for drainage are also important.
As was the case in Napa Valley, the combination of environment and the aesthetic of life “among the vines” makes a small wine town such as Cafayate hugely attractive from a lifestyle perspective, rewarding those who discover it ahead of the crowd.
Case in point: since 2007, when La Estancia de Cafayate was founded—despite the global economic crisis and Argentina’s well-publicized political issues—property values have increased almost 50%.
Likewise, despite its secluded location, the town has virtually exploded in popularity—with new restaurants, shops, hotels, and wine bodegas opening with every passing month.
The town’s success is also apparent in the infrastructure, which includes excellent Internet and a well-equipped and staffed hospital, opened in 2008. (The hospital’s chief cardiologist—an avid golf player—is on call day or night for La Estancia residents.)
Despite its growing popularity, the town remains virtually undiscovered by those not in the know. A recent visitor from Texas expressed surprise at how little information their guide books had about Cafayate.
But the trend is very much intact and in favor of those who take the time to get to know the place at this early stage.
Reason #3: Get to know what good is.
Simply put, the quality of life here is a big improvement over that of most of the more-developed world.
While buying the latest and greatest electronic gadgets is much easier in the US, when it comes to the stuff of life, Cafayate has a wide advantage.
And by “stuff of life,” I mean things like fresh food. In Cafayate, shopping isn’t done at some mega-market, but at small, owner-run shops where the produce couldn’t be any fresher… or more inexpensive. Armloads of fresh lettuce, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, avocados, and fruit of all description might set you back $10.
Then there’s the local culture, which is very friendly and very family oriented. Everyone gets to know everyone in this town, and crime is almost nonexistent.
People tend to walk or bicycle far more than they do in the United States, leading to a generally healthier population, in which obesity is rare.
Then there’s the year-round sunshine and fresh air, along with the benefits of living in a relaxed “café society” where meals are taken al fresco at a leisurely pace with family and friends.
Within just a couple of days of arriving here, the stress of modern life melts away, and you start to experience life in a way that’s been almost forgotten in much of the fast-paced world.
And I haven’t even mentioned La Estancia de Cafayate yet… which brings me to…
Reason #4: La Estancia de Cafayate.
Fifteen years ago, my wife and I spent the better part of three years searching for paradise on earth. We traveled to every country we thought, based on our reading and on past experience, might qualify as our special place in the sun.
Among others, we made long visits or even lived for a while in Bermuda, Spain, Portugal, England (I love the British sense of humor, snooker, and beer), Cuba, Chile, the Philippines, and finally Argentina, where our quest came to an end.
While we discovered that every place has its downsides (for instance, if it’s green, it rains a lot), it was Argentina where all the ingredients needed for a truly wonderful life came together for us.
When years later we discovered Cafayate, we knew we had found the gem in the crown.
Yet, though Cafayate has a splendid environment and a rich local culture, for our taste there were additional aspects needed for a greatly enhanced life. That’s where La Estancia de Cafayate comes in.
Amenities. Based on the vision provided by Doug Casey, La Estancia offers an array of five-star amenities. Including…
  • A world-class golf course designed by Bob Cupp, for many years the lead designer of Jack Nicklaus’ golf course design firm. The course is now the site of the Northwest Argentine Open.
  • A world-class athletic club, definitely the best in Argentina and one of the best on the continent. (Big claim, I know, but as you’ll see when you get here, also completely accurate.)
  • Luxurious spa facilities complete with massage therapists and a variety of treatments. The cost of a one-hour massage? About $30, so you can treat yourself to one on a regular basis.
  • Extensive vineyards on property, enough to produce over 200,000 bottles of wine each year.
  • A top-of-the-line resistance pool with two lanes.
  • A Jack Zehren-designed clubhouse with excellent restaurant.
  • Equestrian activities—with gaited Paso Peruano horses and polo both available.
  • Three professional tennis courts.
  • A bocce court.
  • Social club with library, media room, bar, and billiards table.
  • Kids Club—a dedicated multipurpose building for children to enjoy a number of activities, and to serve as headquarters for the International Institute for Academic Excellence, an academic program developed by residents for the children that opened in 2012.
  • Outdoor social pools to complement the indoor pool at the spa.
  • Extensive riding and running trail network of over 14 kilometers that weaves through the 7-kilometer-long property.
  • And last fall, the five-star Grace Hotel and Residential Villas, complete with Chef Jonathan Wright’s gourmet Muses restaurant, opened on the property.
Community. La Estancia sports a robust international community, with over 260 property owners from 33 countries. Though the owners come from every walk of life, they share a love of the freedom that life in this valley has to offer.
And they tend to be likeminded when it comes to matters of politics and economics—the less of the former, the more robust the latter—and so the sorts of political arguments that are a fairly regular occurrence back in the US are almost nonexistent.
(Because of this compatible world view, one of the most frequently commented-on aspects of visiting La Estancia is how quickly people form friendships.)
So, despite living in a secluded corner of the globe, a place far from the maddening (and just plain mad) crowds, you are surrounded by the best things in life—and philosophically sound neighbors you can share them with.
A final point to emphasize is that La Estancia de Cafayate is in superb financial condition. The project has zero debt, and all of the partners are very well off. In fact, a couple of them are billionaires (or very close to it). So there’s zero chance that it’s going to have financial difficulties.
Reason #5: Breaking out of the rut.
Despite all the many conveniences, or maybe because of those conveniences, for many the “modern” world has become homogenized, predictable, and largely devoid of life-affirming challenges.
One of the distinct advantages of Cafayate’s secluded location is that the culture remains entirely authentic, where the sight of gauchos in full regalia riding down the street is not at all unusual.
No matter whether you visit as a tourist or later decide to spend part of every year here the way we have, the experience of immersing yourself in a different culture means that a new experience awaits around almost every corner.
“Do you have to speak Spanish to live there?” is a frequent question one hears. While you could get by just fine without speaking Spanish, with a little help from your friends, learning a new language later in life is a great way to keep the mind sharp. And it’s surprising how much you can quickly pick up.
And the lifestyle is very active. In addition to walking more, ready access to the extensive facilities of the athletic club and spa, the golf course, and hiking, biking, and riding horses offer abundant opportunities to get off the couch.
That and the high-quality fresh food have a rejuvenating effect on the residents. Speaking personally, in just over two months of living here, I’ve lost ten pounds and am now within five pounds of my optimal weight.
Then there are the direct health benefits of stepping away from the endemic presence of electronic media that has become a hallmark of everyday life “back in the world.” Entire days go by without hearing the news, and you don’t miss it at all.
In fact, once you’re weaned from the constant blare of media, you quickly realize that 98% of what is presented as “news” is little more than fear-mongering or pabulum for the masses. Instead, you’ll find yourself focusing on more relevant matters, such as what time to head over to the athletic club or which café to dine at.
Reason #6: Cost of living.
There are certain key tenets for living a freer, internationally diversified life. These tenets have been loosely expressed as the “five flags.”
The “flags” involve citizenship in one country (or preferably more than one), your business in another, your assets in a third, your residency in a fourth, and then spending time in a fifth, sometimes described as “playgrounds.” In other words, really nice places that offer a very high quality of life.
(These days, diversifying your life—and especially your assets—even further than that makes a lot of sense.)
Argentina very definitely belongs in the fifth category—a wonderful, life-affirming playground.
“But what about the crazy government? What about inflation?” we’re regularly asked.
To which our response is, “What about them?”
You see, non-citizens are treated as welcome visitors (and the citizenry tends to ignore the government anyway). While there are certainly mindless bureaucratic hurdles to jump over now and again, provided you have the right mindset—i.e., a bit of patience and a sense of humor—those hurdles amount to little more than a petty nuisance.
And as for the inflation, this is a society with a long history of bad governance and periodic fiscal crises. As Nassim Taleb explores in his latest book, Antifragile, experience with crisis has made the Argentines extremely resilient to economic downturns.
By some calculations, inflation hereabout is running north of 30%, but here in the agricultural town of Cafayate, you’d never know it.
In fact, for someone with the bulk of their money in a different currency out of the country, the inflation is a boon, as it has made the cost of living remarkably affordable. As I’ve already mentioned, the cost of food is just one tick away from free. Even the most expensive meal in the best restaurant in town will only set you back about $12.
And a high-end locally produced wine, on par with a bottle you might pay $100 for back home, will only cost you about $20, if that. Most will cost you under $10.
While import restrictions can drive up the cost of selective goods, my wireless printer/fax/copier/scanner only cost about $100. And our brand-new 4x4 truck cost only $32,000—right in line with what we would have paid back in the States.
As for labor, we have an excellent maid who comes in for five hours a day to wash dishes and clean—a huge benefit when it comes to quality of life—and the cost is about $3.00 an hour. My hair is cut by a barber who comes to the house for the equivalent of $4.00.
In other words, once you have established yourself here, the annual cost of living is extremely affordable.
Reason #7: Live free.
It is one of the great ironies of our modern time that the country that bills itself as the land of the free—the United States—is increasingly becoming one of the least-free nations on the planet.
As I want to walk on the sunny side, I’m not going to dwell on the point—but only by traveling internationally does this truism become self-evident.
Whereas back in the States, even small towns have militarized police forces and air travel has become an act of contrition, here people come and go pretty much as they please and pay the government almost no attention.
Whereas the US has become a surveillance state, the Argentine government is decades from having the technology or bureaucratic apparatus in place to monitor even the basic moves of the population.
(Did you know that by 2015 all automobiles sold in the US must have a “black box” installed for tracking purposes?)
And whereas the US actively interferes globally—racking up enemies in the process—Argentina largely keeps to itself, removing the excuse for developing a police state in the first place.
In fact, due to the past experience of a military dictatorship, the Argentines have zero tolerance for a bloated defense or police apparatus. As a result, the police hereabouts are largely relegated to playing the role of the proverbial night watchman and strike no fear in the hearts of the populace.
The result can often be quite humorous—with beat-up old cars passing police cars with a honk. Or a family of four stuffed onto a motor scooter careening down the street… a sight that back in the US would quickly trigger a police stop and a serious fine.
With the recent approval of surveillance drones operating in US civilian airspace and a whole host of draconian laws now on the books that can and almost certainly will be used to clamp down on society should another significant terrorist act occur on US soil (which seems inevitable at this point), I worry about the future of America.
But I can’t do anything about all of that: public paranoia fostered by the media, politics, and the military-industrial complex have created an unstoppable trend that is toxic to individual freedom.
What I can do is to establish a foothold for my family off the beaten path… happily, a foothold that offers the best that life has to offer.
For the time being, we’ll keep one foot here and one foot in the US, returning there for the North American summer. However, if things begin to take a serious turn for the worse, we can pick the one foot up and carry on here with an exceptional quality of life.
For the record, I personally don’t believe we’ll see extreme social unrest or the emergence of a systematically dangerous police state in the US.
Instead, I agree with John Mauldin’s perspective that the US and other damaged Western economies will likely “muddle through”—albeit with a continued decline in the quality of life.
That said, as no one can see the future, having a home outside of the US offers tremendous peace of mind and, like my friend and partner Doug Casey, I literally can’t find a better place than here.
Reason #8: The People of Cafayate.
Before heading down to Cafayate, we made a couple of trips to a mall in the US. Frankly, I was shocked.
While you’ll see young people down here with funky hairdos and some tattoos, it’s not even close to the scale of what we saw on display at the mall.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s no question I feel increasingly out of touch with the dysfunctional zeitgeist of America.
By contrast, the people of Cafayate, and Argentina on the whole, are soundly connected to their community, and I’ve never encountered anything but an optimistic, helpful attitude from anyone.
Part of this may be attributable to the fact that Cafayate is an international tourist destination, so no matter where you’re from, you won’t stand out. But that is only a superficial reason, because the simple truth is that people here understand the concept that things work best when you work together.
I can’t stress enough how many wonderful people have come into our lives here: Pelado and his son Bauti, who run our favorite café; “Cupito,” our favorite waiter; “Oreja,” the mechanic; Mauricio, “the Chilean”; Claudio Martinez, our builder; Dr. Luis Kenny, our Argentine counsel; Fernando Torres, the resort manager at La Estancia; the Romero family; Miguel, who runs the clubhouse, and Luis, the head waiter; Daniela, the concierge on site at La Estancia; Jorge Conejo, La Estancia’s property manager; friends Florencia and Candelaria, who help us in any number of ways; Gabriel, the head of the local volunteer fire department… the list could easily continue for another page.
And that doesn’t even include all the international owners, doctors, engineers, pilots, writers, technologists, geologists, etc., etc.—each of whom is unique and interesting in his or her own way.
Everybody at every turn of our time down here has gone out of their way to be helpful, to help solve the inevitable challenges that come up when settling into a new town, and to be warm and welcoming.
In Cafayate, as often as not, you greet your friends with a hug and a kiss on the cheek (a “beso,” in the local parlance).
It has been, in short, a hugely refreshing change from America where people seem to be increasingly isolated and even aberrant in their lifestyles.
Reason # 8½: The remote location.
I list this as half of a reason, because some people will find the journey here to be long. And in fairness, it is.
Typically, visitors traveling internationally have to take an overnight flight (though from the East Coast of America, you are pretty much on the same time zone, so there’s no jet lag to deal with).
Most people then want to spend a night or two in Buenos Aires, though if you wanted to power straight through to Cafayate, you could.
The second leg of the trip involves a flight of about two hours to Salta City, the nearest modest-sized city, followed by a three-hour drive to Cafayate through the Quebrada (where regular stops to take photos are unavoidable).
For a cup-half-empty personality type, the downside of the long journey is that it’s a long journey.
In my view, however, Cafayate’s remote location is a huge plus. That’s because…
  • It ensures that even though the town is becoming discovered as an adventure travel destination, it will be years and maybe decades before it’s overrun with development—the fate that awaits any special place that is too easily reached from large population centers.
  • It has preserved Cafayate’s distinct culture. Unlike places like Cancun that are overrun with weekend warriors, the pace of life in Cafayate is pretty much perfect for living the good life.
  • The town is very self-sustaining and virtually devoid of the social issues present in larger population centers.
But there really is only one way to understand Cafayate and what’s going on at La Estancia de Cafayate, and that is to visit.
And there’s no better time to do so than this coming November 7-12, when Doug Casey will be hosting our next big event.
As the number of guests that can be accommodated is strictly limited, we expect it will quickly sell out like previous events.
As a result, if you are at all interested in attending, you’ll want to take time to learn more about La Estancia de Cafayate and register sooner rather than later.
For prompt answers, drop Chris Leverich, who is helping coordinate the event, a quick email at cleverich@laest.com.
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