The Truth About the Originarios (and Bill Bonner's wine)
Our founder Bill Bonner is returning to his ranch in remote Argentina soon. Bill will update readers on his running battle with the Originarios—a small group of indigenous tenants. If you're a new reader, the ranch is also where Bill and his family make a remarkable wine. Below, Bill's son Will tells the story of the ranch, the Originarios, and the wine.
To learn more about the wine and how to enjoy it, please go here.
By Will Bonner
Bonner Private Wines
On a cold night on the high plains… 12,000 feet above the world… a fire raged.
The flames lit shadowy figures, currently at work ripping up a water line that ran along the desert floor.
Suddenly – a loud crack. The figures froze.
The ceiling beams of the small cottage were beginning to give way.
The men turned for a moment to watch the cottage surrender to the flames, then got back to work. Finished with the water line, they then turned their attention to a nearby cattle corral.
By the time ranch hand Natalio arrived to investigate, the cattle chute and gate had vanished. Nothing remained of the small cottage but three tumble-down stone walls and a heap of smoldering charcoal.
He didn’t say it. There was no one around for miles to hear it anyway. Still, one thought echoed around in his mind: out in the Calchaquí Valley, in the hills surrounding the world’s highest vineyards… a war was brewing.
A War at the Edge of the World
As long-time readers know, Argentina’s Calchaquí Valley is home to some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world. The extreme altitude malbec made there is not your typical wine.
Yet making it is, at best, a marginal enterprise.
The vineyards are too far from the ports. The roads are often impassable to anything beyond a tractor (at our Gualfin ranch, the highest vineyard is only accessible on horseback). And due to the extreme conditions (high UV, no water, sudden temperature swings), the yield is about a third of what lower altitudes produce.
The Calchaqui Valley in Argentina
Over 200 years, the winemakers of Calchaqui have adapted to existence at the edge of the world.
Yet recently, a new threat has emerged: Originarios.
Made up mostly of local goat herders and cattle rustlers living out at the most remote haciendas, their attacks rarely result in bodily harm to anyone. Their aim is political, not personal – a campaign of sabotage and guerrilla warfare, in the hopes of forcing weary landowners, like ourselves, to sign over their lands.
The campaign began in 2005, 230 miles south of the Calchaqui, with the seizure of 196,000 acres of ranch land, egged on by the Argentine president and local politicians. The Originarios, not the landowner, had the government on their side.
“...like if you put Steve Martin’s character from The Jerk in charge of Enron... then lit him on fire”
Legally speaking, an Originario is a descendant of one of the “original” tribes that populated Argentina before a series of bloody conquistas in the 19th century. Out of contrition, Argentine constitución affords these descendants certain privileges – among them, the rights to their “ancestral” lands.
Notice our liberal use of quotation marks. Argentina’s approach to indigenous rights is kind of like its approach to fiscal policy. Which is to say, kind of like if you put Steve Martin’s character from The Jerk in charge of Enron… and then lit him on fire.
Down around Buenos Aires, and even further south in Patagonia, the question of identity and ownership is easier to determine. The Mapuche Indians built a vast civilization in those parts. They were fighting the Argentine government nearly up until the 20th century.
Up north, however, Originarios don’t claim to be Mapuche. They claim to be Diaguita. Too bad the Diaguita disappeared so long ago that historians can’t even reach a consensus on what language they spoke… or if they were even one tribe (evidence suggests they weren’t).
Who Killed The Diaguita People?
By the time of the first conquests against the Mapuche, the Diaguita had already met their fate, first at the hands of invading Incas in the 15th century, then at the hands of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th.
Still, the law allows anyone to self-identify as a descendant of the Diaguita; a fact many a local politician has exploited to rally constituents to a cause.
At our own Gualfin, Originarios recently burned down two buildings, stole our cattle chute, and ripped up a water line (with rain so scarce, water lines are literally life lines).
Meanwhile, at least one of our neighbors has already given in. Realizing that he had effectively lost control of the high plains and mountains that surround his vines, he simply made a deal: his tormenters could keep the plains and peaks, so long as they stayed away from the vines.
So far, both sides appear to be honoring the pact. But what happens when the Originarios realize that the true wealth of the Calchaquí lies not in its high plains, but in its vines?
Unlike cattle, the vines of Calchaquí – an ancient type of malbec that died out in Europe about 150 years ago – thrive in its extreme conditions.
The Last Vintage?
The stress of the environment causes what’s known as “sirtuin activation” in the grape, resulting in a wine with an inky, near-black coloring.
The coloring is due to high levels of polyphenols such as resveratrol, which protect the grape from the elements.
Interestingly, scientists such as Harvard professor David Sinclair, PhD, now believe that when resveratrol passes into your body, it activates your sirtuin pathway as well. Effectively, the resilience of the plant – hard won after years in the wilderness – is passed onto you.
But the true beauty of this wine is the remarkable flavor.
It is said that when you open your first bottle of Calchaquí wine, you catch a whiff of campfires burning out on the high plains as cowboys break camp for the night.
With the threat of Originarios hanging over us all, each vintage becomes that much more precious... it could always be our last.
Today, you can reserve some of the Calchaqui Valley’s greatest malbecs (PLUS a wine from the true home of the ancient Diaguita, the Famatina Valley)...brought to your doorstep from valleys over 5,000 miles away... Our next shipment goes out soon.
Bonner Private Research does not accept paid advertising from third parties. We may however, receive a commission from select partners whose products and services we believe in, like, and endorse. We love the Tacana!
Bill, the only way you can effectively deal with violent assholes is to use violence or the threat of overwhelming violence.
Going to the "authorities" who are corrupt or intimidated or sympathetic will just lead to more and more violence against you and your property.
You have resources that you are not using. Talk is cheap and worthless against folks who think they can just go on taking from you.
Yes, I avocate using your resources against these bandits and hooligans. By resources, I mean buy some local political officials, police, and strong arm bullies to encourage those who are trying to take what is yours.
Yes, you will need to make some examples of a few. You need to start thinking like the cartel hefes in Mexico. First tell these jerks that you will make their lives very difficult. Then threaten them and their families. Then extort them. Then, if there is no change of behavior, arrange to have some families simply disappear...completely. As in kill them and bury them far far from anyone or any police.
None of this is fun or easy. Either you stand up for you rights and property or you keep having incidents that are disruptive and costly.
You will die of a thousand cuts. They will take your land and you will sneak off and hide in one of your other properties worldwide.
You have been reasonable. You have received unreasonable in return. You have been a good guy and nice man and they have shit on you.
Your choice. Get some enforcers. Or. Sell out and leave with your tail between your legs.
What would a Texan do? Yeah, you know what a Texan would do.
And that is why there is a Texas and it is not part of Mexico.
But, hey, I could be wrong about this.
No Sunday Sesh?😑