Imagine if you could bottle the taste of a landscape. No, I’m not talking about bottled air, nor Argentina’s favourite brand of mineral water, Villavicencio. I’m talking about capturing the fresh mountain air, the pure Andean meltwater and the seductive aromas of the plants which thrive in the foothills with just one ingredient: flower nectar.
The creator of these floral wines, Gabriel Vivanco, is passionately in love with his native land and the bounty it offers up. The first sparks of the idea grew from a dreamy yearlong trip which took the charismatic young Mendocino to every corner of the globe. Wherever he went he was struck by the incredible diversity of eating and drinking habits, and also by the constant presence of flowers. From Sumatra, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to Morocco and the Netherlands, each place had unique flowers which perfectly suited local soils and weather conditions.
Although friends warned him that he was crazy and going to poison himself, he started tasting every new flower he came across. Enchanted by cultures that saw flowers as more than mere decoration, he made it his mission to sample unfamiliar drinks and exotic foods wherever he went.
But life on the open road wasn’t always a bed of roses. A motorbike accident in Thailand left him seriously injured, he missed his flight back to Argentina from New Zealand, and at one point he was stranded far from home with just nine New Zealand dollars to his name. After working as a winemaker in New Zealand, on his return to Mendoza Gabriel realised that he didn’t want to send out his C.V. and start hunting for another job: “I wanted to fight for my dreams to make them come true.”
There was just one little problem. He didn’t know what his dreams were.
All he knew was that flowers were important.
Reflecting on his trip and on his father’s and grandfather’s work as beekeepers, he came to a grand realisation. He was going to make wine, but not wine as we know it. Just like the bees, he would harvest nectar from wildflowers growing in the Andean foothills and transform it into something wonderful. That wonderful would be Argentina’s very first flower nectar wine.
“I wanted to find a way to connect the landscape with a person through a glass, in a way that would respect nature” explains Gabriel. He points out that agriculture and winemaking always involve destruction, even when organic practices are used. Areas are cleared to grow crops or plant vines, and ecosystems are damaged. In contrast, harvesting from wildflowers which grow without any human intervention means Gabriel does not need to interfere with nature. He takes what he needs and leaves the rest to the bees.
Three years after that lightbulb moment, Gabriel’s progress is striking. In homage to Amsterdam’s beautiful Bloemenmarkt flower market which helped inspire him, he gave his dream the name Blumbeÿ after the Dutch words for flower and bee. There are currently two wines, a dry Nature and a sweet Dulce Natural. Both sing with sensual floral aromas like exquisite edible perfumes. The Nature has notes of jasmine, chamomile, and grapefruit, while the more delicate aromas of the Dulce Natural remind of roses, dried peaches, honey, and dates.
Making wine from flower nectar poses unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to food pairings. Gabriel mentions how his travels in Asia helped him appreciate that not everyone wants to drink heavy wines like Argentina’s iconic Malbec. The alcohol content of Blumbeÿ is just 11% whereas Malbecs often come in at 14% or higher. Both Blumbeÿ wines are incredibly easy to drink on their own, but they also pair well with a huge range of dishes. The dry Nature wine complements everything from octopus and marinated chicken to spicy Thai dishes and pork gyoza, while the sweeter wine is a natural fit for dessert addicts.
When asked what’s next for Blumbeÿ, Gabriel’s eyes shine with excitement. “I’d like to make a sparkling wine to appeal to young people, and I also have a wine matured in oak barrels sleeping in my cellar which I might release in the future.” He talks passionately about the possibility of capturing the terroir of different landscapes in the bottle, of making wines with flowers from Patagonia, from Salta, from Morocco or even Malaysia.
For the moment, though, Blumbeÿ is rapidly making a mark on the Argentine wine scene. Gabriel has just begun a collaboration with Buenos Aires restaurant Aramburu, consistently voted as one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Such is his dedication to his dream that he hand-delivered the bottles from his Mendoza home to the restaurant himself, surprising the head sommelier who was expecting a courier with a clipboard.
For those of you eager to get your hands on some, Aramburu is currently the only place in Buenos Aires that the public can sample Gaby’s remarkable creation. The restaurant will be serving Blumbeÿ as part of its new tasting menu, but since there’s limited quantities you’d be wise to go soon. The rest of you will just have to make do with chilled Villavicencio and a generous spritz of Flowerbomb.
For more information on Blumbeÿ and where you can find it, please visit the Facebook page.