Argentina mixes olives and wine Maipu, argentinaten minutes in the orchard and already my hands felt raw.How do they do this all day without gloves, i wondered, shuffling my feet for a better foothold in argentina's sandy clay. It was thursday, the day we'd expected to be tasting wine at the zuccardi family's finca(Ranch)And winery, in maipu, mendoza province.Instead, we were clawing through a tangle of branches, trying to pick enough olives to feed zuccardi's stateoftheart olive oil press. It looked so easy when torey novak, zuccardi's tour guide, gave a demonstration.You hang a coneshaped canvas sack around your neck and pick a tree loaded with ripe fruit.Reaching up into a branch, you grab it with both hands and yank down hard, stripping the olives off and into the sack.When your neck cries uncle, you empty the sack into the 40pound crate handily stacked nearby.Then you fill the second crate, and the third, all day every day until the harvest ends or your hands scream uncle. "Nah, most good pickers don't wear gloves,"Said novak, amused.He could see i was hopelessly awkward. "I couldn't do it either,"He admitted. "Not for long, anyway.But our best picker can fill 45 crates in a day. "Mercifully, my career as a field hand died before it was born. But why in blazes were we fooling with olives when we'd left buenos aires three days earlier on a mission:To smell, savour, taste and compare malbec, argentina's signature red wine, at the source?And why was la familia zuccardi, a familyowned, threegenerationold winery and leading malbec producer, growing olives? As it happens, a number of longestablished wineries here in the cuyo area, scrubby desert land on the sunny east slope of the andes mountains, grow multiple crops.The soil, irrigated for centuries before europeans explored the region, is ideal for growing both grapes and olives;More than 6, 000 olive growers and 1, 200 wineries are scattered through the two adjacent provinces of mendoza and san juan. The region's newer wineries stick mostly to grapes, concentrating their efforts on building sales.But for visitors to the region, the complete farmtobodega tour adds another dimension altogether.When you've mucked around in the man's orchards and harvested his olives, you feel invested. After picking the fruit, clumping through the mud and riding back to the processing plant with the crates stacked on the golf cart, we watched our olives macerated into mush.Tasting the newly pressed oil, we proudly pasted labels on our takehome bottles.Then we knocked the dirt off our shoes and headed for the bodega itself. Here, in the casa del visitante, sepiatoned photos serve a slice of late 19th century history, capturing tiredlooking italian immigrants toting luggage, working the fields, picking grapes and vegetables and building railroads.Framed photos of zaccardi's founding ancestors, frozen in anklelength dresses and high collars, highlight the exhibits.Then it was on to the fermentation vats and eventually to the tasting room.The tour Cheap Cocktail Dresses 2014 ended not with a"We're done, let's go,"But with a traditional argentine meal prepared by chef ana rodriguez at the winery's casual cafe and food shop, the pan y oliva. For wine aficionados, mendoza is a destination in its own right.One way to get there is by flying through miami to santiago, chile, and east over the andes(A short flight or drive)Into argentina.But for us, the winery visits were an addon, a last minute addition to a family reunion in buenos aires.Our third cousins in buenos aires(Newlydiscovered on facebook)Had invited us to visit more than once.When they proposed a trip to mendoza, heart of the world's fifth largest wine industry, we couldn't say no. What we'd forgotten is that argentina is nearly as large as the united states(Four times the size of texas);Mendoza, 646 miles west of buenos aires, is hardly a weekend getaway.And with limited vacation time, flying was the only option.We'd rent a car at the airport, we assumed, and explore the wine country on a relaxed schedule, just as we've done in california's napa and sonoma, in oregon, in washington state, even in france. But that isn't the way they do it in mendoza.Because the wineries are scattered far apart and road signs are poor, dropin guests are nonexistent.Instead, you call or email and make a reservation for a specific time.On the appointed day, the bodega schedules a staff member to conduct the tasting, chooses sample wines and polishes the wine glasses. Anyone can make a reservation for a visit and tasting.But there are advantages to signing up for a one to fiveday tour with a wine tour company, someone who knows the industry, the wineries and argentine culture.It's akin to renting an audio guide when you visit an art museum.You come away better informed and certainly more entertained. A typical touryou choose the lengthgenerally visits three wineries each day and includes daily lunch(With wine), hotels and transportation by van.If you have specific wine labels or vintages in mind, they'll customize your route.Our cousins, who knew the drill, handled it for the four of us, arranging a threeday guided tour with a guide they'd used before. We started in san juan province, going first to callia winery and then to graffigna, where chief wine maker gerardo danitz, eager to answer even the dumbest question, fielded a tasting that could have doubled as wine wisdom 101.His patient explanations were an ideal sendoff for what would be three days of tasting, spitting, tasting, sneaking a swallow here and therefor the strength to push onand running out of adjectives to describe the infinite range of fruity, nutty flavors. Heading south to mendoza, we stopped first at vistalba bodega, wine czar carlos pulenta's show place, where most visits include both tasting and lunch at his muchacclaimed fivestar restaurant, la bourgogne.Then it was on to tupungato winelands to see recently planted vineyards and the new golf course;To salentein and a culture museum;And finally to zuccardi.Which is how we found ourselves in the dirt, discussing olive cultivation. Until then i hadn't given much thought to immigrant history and the parallels between argentina and the united states.But in most of the towns we saw, you could walk down the street andexcept for the signs in spanishthink you were at home.Both countries were settled by immigrants from europe who brought farming skills to the new world.Settling in places like wisconsin, iowa, virginia and throughout argentina, they saw what looked like empty land, and displacing or killing the indigenous tribes, claimed it.And by gauchos in argentina, became a staple.And grapes, initially grown for the fruit or to make table wine for home use, became a commercial success. Like argentina's immigrants, malbec grapes are also an import, brought from france.But it took mendoza's sandy clay to create those tonguetingling perfect fruity, nutty, oaky, younameit flavours.A wine bottle, tucked into my luggage for the return trip, would have been nice.But the custompicked, personally selected, orchardtotable olive oil made a better souvenir. Getting there:Fly from miami to buenos aires, and on a regional carrier to mendoza or san juan.Or fly lan chile airline to santiago, in Homecoming Dresses UK chile, and on to san juan or mendoza. When Evening Dresses UK: to go:Any time of year is lovely in mendoza.But february, march and april(Autumn in the southern hemisphere), when the harvest is under way or just completed, is especially nice. Our tour guide, a family friend, no longer leads wine tours.Other recommended tour guides are listed below.Before making reservations, visit all the websites listed here, which, taken together, offer a wealth of information on mendoza, on the types of tours available, and the wineries each guide or outfitter likes to visit.There are differences.The listed phone numbers in argentina are preceded by 54, the country code.The rest are in the united states.