What a week of ups and downs in Mendoza! We weren’t sure what to expect, as our Salta friend Martin was less than complimentary about the city, but it being the heart of the wine region (producing 70% of Argentina’s wine) we couldn’t not stop.
After a 20 hour bus ride from Salta (!) We checked into our very nice hotel (thank you Franca and Rodolfo for a wonderful birthday present!) only to find out that the following day (the Monday) was a bank holiday so everything would be shut – typical!
Nevertheless, we set out and wandered around the empty streets, which turned out to be beautiful. Rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in the late 1800s, the streets are huge (to avoid rubble falling directly on people) and the town is built around 5 plazas (to work as evacuation points during a future earthquake). It gives the city a rather Parisian feel, with cafe after cafe lining the huge leafy avenues. We immediately really loved the city, despite it being shut down, and both said that of all the cities we had been to, we could most see ourselves living here.
We also learned that Mendoza loves to siesta: the few things that were open shut down between 1pm-5pm!
Bank holiday Monday meant another very quiet day, but how better to spend it than a trip to the hospital? Again, Katie, who never ever gets sick at home, got bitten by something in Bolivia that just kept getting bigger to the point her ankle was so swollen, red and itchy we thought we should take her to see a doctor. The hospital was close by, but we happened to walk past a private clinic on our way and they said the hospital was free so should try that. “But – he warned – keep your backpacks in front of you…” We were a little unsure why, surely hospitals are safe, but as we got there we understood.
Seeing as this is a free hospital, it brings with it a certain type of patient, and we were surrounded by very sketchy and drugged looking Mendozians – two guys got brought in in handcuffs, one guy would NOT stop staring and another woman could not stop vomiting, a very pleasant experience. As we passed the time playing games, our neighbour turned to us and told us to put our phone away. Clearly Mendoza hospital is the hot spot of crime!
We were seen rather quickly in the very tired, somewhat unhygienic looking hospital, to find out that she had an infection in her heel so was put back on antibiotics for the next week – just what you need whilst in one of the world’s best wine regions!
The following day we decided to rent a car to spend two days in Uco Valley, considered one of the best areas around Mendoza for growing wine, but also the hardest to reach. The other option was to spend a day in Maipu, only 15 minutes outside the city where you do bike and wine tours, which hugely appealed to us but we opted for the more civilised option (!) so we could see more of the countryside as well.
After a few chores (including send my US ballot, thank you Connecticut for making it so easy), we rented a Chevrolet from the 1980s it seemed and made our way to Uco Valley. We were told you needed to book in advance for winery tours, so our first day was taking the very scenic route (dusty and gravelly) down the Andes towards Tupungato, where we sussed out a few wineries for the following day and took in the beautiful scenery.
We were driving down a particularly deserty road when Katie drove over what she thought was a ribbon but turned out to be…a snake (knew I shouldn’t have let her behind the wheel). We drove back to check on the poor thing who was looking worse for wear, but managed to slither off.
We found a hotel for the night in Tupungato, aptly called Hotel Chardonnay, which was remarkably lovely as it was the cheapest in town and spent the evening at the town’s only open restaurant, Buena Cosecha, drinking local wine and eating steak.
The next morning we set off for Salentein Winery, that had an English tour at 11am (not too early for wine right?) and came highly recommended. Turns out, we were the only people on the tour!
It started off with a film about the importance of wine in history and how the development of wine is closely linked to the development of the vine. We learned that this area only gets 200mm rainfall a year, and is a very good climate for wine growing at an altitude of 1200m.
We were then taken through the vineyards, to where the wine ferments, and into the cellars which are kept at 12• celsius at 80% humidity. Here are some of the fun facts we learnt along the way:
– Within the vineyard they grow 11 types of grape, each in their own microclimate. The white wine grape grows closest to the Andes at the highest altitude, the lowest is Merlot.
– The vineyard was built in 1990 through a Dutch investment and they had their first wine by 1998.
– They make three different ranges of wine – the young table wine which is fermented and aged in steel tanks, the reserve line which is fermented in steel tanks but aged in oak barrels and the Primus range which is fermented and aged in the barrels.
– They have a piano in their wine cellar and host two concerts a year. 300 people attend but it can’t last longer than an hour as the body temperatures affect the temperature in the cellar.
– Wine in Argentina has a higher alcohol percentage than usual (average 15%), as the higher temperature means more sugar in the grapes which is what turns to alcohol during fermentation.
Finally, we got to taste 4 different wines. Needless to say, we couldn’t really smell or taste any of the things/notes he was suggesting we could, but nonetheless it was all very yummy!
We then headed to La Azul, the smallest of the 1000 odd vineyards surrounding Mendoza, for lunch of steak and more wine before finishing off at Atamisque vineyard for our last tour and tasting.
A lot more low key and a bit smaller than this morning’s, but set in beautiful grounds with great views. Again followed by a tasting, which we sadly had to share as I was driving.
After a very full day, we stumbled back to our hotel for a quiet evening in, before driving back to Mendoza in the morning.
Here comes our biggest downer of the week: we took the car back, only for them to tell us ‘somebody walked over the car’. I mean, what?? Then we looked, and we saw the car had a huge dent in its roof and three sets of footprints on the bonnet. How did we miss that!?
And of course, they made us pay for it. £250. Even though Katie had managed to push out the dent from the inside. I can’t imagine the car was worth much more than that. But we had to cough up, which put a huge dent (excuse the pun) in our budget and moods.
The rest of the day was spent sulking around town before a night bus to Santiago.
A bitter end to a beautiful week in Mendoza, but onwards and upwards.
Bye for now x