Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 14

Day 14    January 17, 2008


     Omar Alvarez is an entrepreneur.  His people are top notch.  What a day they gave us.

About 25 years ago Sr. Alvarez began a cable TV business.  He expanded to agriculture and then to hydroelectricity.  He is constantly expanding all three of his enterprises.  We were able to tour the packing house. Today was the first day of Bartlett (William) pear packing.  The fruit was all presold to Brazil at top prices.  Evidentally the 320 million people in Brazil love pears and 90% of all pears from Argentina are sold in the home country or to Brazil.  Only 10% are exported to the US and Europe.  We next drove to the orchard where the pears were being picked.  The workers only picked the large sizes for this first picking, they will come back again and again over the next 15 days, picking by size until all the fruit is size 100 or bigger.

     Next we drove to a large peach orchard.  They have already picked and packed thousands of boxes of peaches, but had the entire crew move to the pear orchard to get the early market price.  They will come back to peaches in a few days and rotate from peaches to pears until both are completed.  Hail was very bad this year, but because of the hail nets the damage was negligible.  Only on the unprotected blocks could you see the devastating hail they have suffered.  These folks explained the government will subsidize 70% of the cost ($10,000 per hectare) to purchase and install the hail nets.  Then the growers have to pay back the government at low interest over five years.  With all the hail they get here, this is not really a choice but a necessity.

     The next orchard was a combination of wine grapes, peaches, Italian plums and pears.  They are the second largest grower of plums and many of them are dried at a separate warehouse.  We visited that later in the afternoon and they can dry 1800 K of plums per hour.  This is a very profitable business for them, worth even more than fresh fruit.  They also dry apricots and pears.  Gail and I decided to try to dry some of our culls this year and see if we can copy their secret formula.  (Which they were kind enough to share with us.)

    The fourth orchard was simply unbelievable:  4000 Hectares of grapes (all kinds) and fruit (all kinds) with an expansion of 2000 more Hec of virgin land. He is developing this last area into orchards and vineyards for investors.  Across the road was the summer home of Sr. Alvarez.  It is surrounded by 3000 Hec of native land and a private zoo of Guaranos, Llamas, Ostrich, Water Buffalo, Deer and others whose names I cannot spell.  In the center of the park, down a road three miles long, is a country mansion.  I hope the photos we post will do it justice.  There we were met by his staff who had prepared a roast goat and all the fresh roasted vegetables from his garden.  We first had a tour of the house, the great room full of animal heads from all over the world, the gun room with a hundred classic and modern weapons, and then we went into his wine cellar and were told to choose a wine.  Surrounded by thousands of bottles of premium wines from all over the world, I confessed an inability to choose wisely.  The chef selected a Malbec and we began to eat.  After the first sip our host, Ricardo Lodi, pronounced the wine "not good" and went into the cellar to get another bottle, We feasted, enjoyed the incredible views, talked economics, fruit trade practices and politics.  Finally we headed back 20 K into San Rafael.  Along the way we stopped at other orchards they own.  We returned to the hotel and are infatuated with the beauty of this city and the kindness of the people we have met.

     I will share a joke that one of these people told on themselves, not because it is true, but as it sheds light on their humble nature and ability to laugh at themselves:

     "It has been said that when God created the earth he gave each county natural resources so the people would have enough to live and be happy, but not too much so they would be lazy.  He painted the world with colors, each color representing a natural resource – rich soil, minerals, water, timber, precious metals, healthy breezes, sea ports, and so on.  But he only gave each country two or three of the best gifts.  When he finally came to the ends of the earth, he was almost out of colors.  So he painted Argentina with every single color, making it the most blessed of all countries in natural resources.  The archangel said to him:  Lord, why have you been so generous to Argentina, they have more than any other country.  God replied:  do not worry, I am also giving them the Argentines."

     These people do have a rich country, unbelievably productive.  The ones we have met have also been exceptionally bright, educated and generous.  We will probably be coming back here, even if it is the ends of the earth.


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