Mendoza's irrigation system is unique in all of Argentina. Water supplied by glacial run-off from the Andes flows through a system of reservoirs and dams, canals and ditches to convey moisture to fields, orchards and vineyards. Gravity driven flood irrigation was the brainchild of the Incas, whose basic engineering concepts still work today to facilitate agriculture in a dry desert zone.
Steel gates control the flow
Written into the deed to our property of 7.5 hectares, is a clause that allows us 9.5 hours per week of irrigation time. We pay an annual fee for water usage and must keep our bill up-to-date, otherwise the water rights can be reallocated to another finca. A schedule of hours distributed by the Water Co-operative outlines start and finish times for all of the farmers on this street who access water from the roadside riego. Sometimes our turn for irrigation occurs during the middle of the night, and at other times it takes place during the day. Our worker is responsible for closing off the neighbour's gate and opening our own to allow water to flow onto our alfalfa field. There is a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation inherent in the whole system. If your crop needs extra water, you can usually find someone down the road who is not using their turn and will gladly give you additional hours. If you're not available to irrigate during your specified time, you can work out a trade with another farmer. The weekly give and take of such a vital resource keeps neighbours on good terms.
Winter riego, clean and dry
At the beginning of June the water is completely shut off at the dams. The imposed dry spell of about 6 weeks is an opportunity for cleaning the system and making any necessary repairs. Each finca owner is required by law to clean the riego of the immediate upstream neighbour, clearing any weeds and debris that might obstruct the flow of water onto the land. This is usually done by burning the vegetation in and around the canal, and working the channel smooth with a hoe. An inspector of waterworks comes around to each finca to make sure that the cleaning has been completed.
Summer riego, flowing
We look forward to July 14th, the day when the water returns. The babbling of the stream that fills the canal is a welcome sound, a harbinger of spring and renewed growth. It is a gentle assurance that the cycle of the growing season will soon start all over again, and the land will produce an income.
We buy fish during the dry times at Pescaderia Puerto Deseado on Av. Balloffet. The most economical fish to buy in this shop is merluza or hake. Our South African friends tell us that hake is used for bait in their country, but it's the only fresh fish available in San Rafael. We purchase four milanesas, which are filets covered with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, ready to be fried.
The fish dinner pairs well with Cabrini Chardonnay 2005
This wine has notes of green apple, mushrooms and damp vegetation, followed by an acidic finish. It comes from Perdriel, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, from a bodega
established in 1918 and operated today by the fourth generation of the Cabrini family. A bottle of Cabrini Chardonnay costs 19.90 pesos. Four milanesas de merluza cost 14.99 pesos.
Here's a link to an excellent seafood cookbook entitled "A Good Catch"
by Jill Lambert. I picked up a copy during a trip to Wolfville, Nova Scotia and was delighted to find my son Nick Nutting listed as a contributing chef, with his recipe for octopus included in the collection. This book offers sustainable seafood recipes from the top chefs in Canada, while promoting the idea of eating locally harvested, fresh, nutritious fruits de mer.