Not often on this trip have I entered into a town or historical site with expectations or even many preconceived notions of what to expect. I don’t plan a lot in advance, and try not to listen much to others advice about places because one thing we learned on this trip, everyone has different experiences. We loved Mexico City and Lima, Peru, many people we met hated them. We did not like Huanchaco, Peru, but others fell in love with it. Traveling is unique to the individual, no two people will ever have the same experience.
Being a wine lover and having spent many, many weekends in the California wine country I was really looking forward to Mendoza. I imagined it to be similar to wine tasting in California where we could go from winery to winery looking for a new favorite wine. As we drove into Mendoza from Uspallata we began seeing the grapes. Miles and miles of grapes and modern, stylish wineries which would have been similar to Napa aside from the stunning snow capped Andes behind them. We were super excited. Since it was the afternoon we decided we wanted to stop in a few wineries on our way into the city.
We drove up to a winery with an open sign and hours of tasting and came up to a guard gate. We told the guard we wanted to taste wine and he said we needed an appointment. We asked how we got an appointment and he told us to call the winery. I asked if we could just go in and make an appointment. No. This turned out to be the annoying catch I never imagined about Mendoza and we had similar experiences at other wineries, no dropping in. The wineries are not really set up for exploring by individual car and tasting like California wineries. Tours must be booked in town through the many tour agencies and let me tell you they are not cheap.
We looked at many options. There are bike tours (but it was 90 degrees and that sounded horrendous), there is a bus that goes to around seven wineries that you can hop on and off but each winery it goes to charges between $10 and $15 per tour per person and the bus ticket was not cheap, around $30 a person. When we added it up the bus tour would be more expensive than a private tour.
The final problem is that the city of Mendoza is about a 30 to 45 minute drive from the wineries, it is not really possible to bike to them from town or even take a taxi (we tried). We even emailed ten wineries asking if we could come and do a tour and only one responded with a no (I am sure if we called and were persistent we could have arranged some private tastings, but we don’t have a phone and so we gave up). So you really are at the mercy of paying for organized tours. I think if I knew this ahead of time I would not have been as let down. Stupid expectations!
Another challenge for us was where to stay. There is a campground about three miles from the city center that charged $20 a night for a rustic campground in a park. The other options are more than eleven miles from town and were full of school groups when we visited. So we decided to investigate renting an apartment for five days in the center of the city with our Swiss friends Michael and Simone who were arriving in town. Sam found an amazing two bedroom apartment literally in the heart of the city within easy walking distance from all the restaurants and bars for not much more than the campground cost! Score!!!!
We had a blast in Mendoza once we figured out where to stay and how to deal with the wine tasting challenge. We found lots of great wine bars where you could taste the local wines in the city, there was a fun restaurant scene where we could eat dinner outside in the hot, balmy night air and lots of cafes and coffee shops. We also booked a private tour to some wineries so we could experience the wine making part of this region.
At the end of the five days in Mendoza we had probably consumed about 5000 calories a day in wine, cheese, giant steaks, gelato and pastries. I picked up my clothes from the laundry service as we were leaving town and put on my jeans and they felt super tight. I looked at Sam and told him annoyed that they had shrunk my jeans. He looked at me sideways and started laughing, it had never occurred to me that maybe my jeans shrinking was not the problem. Good thing we were headed to Patagonia for some hiking!
After Mendoza Michael and Simone stayed with us and we spent some time camping in the region around the wine country. When we are with them it seems all we do is cook amazing food and drink great wine and talk around the camp fire late into the night. Simone is half Italian and makes delicious pastas and perfect risottos and I can hold my own in the kitchen. We camped and feasted and basically drank all the wine we bought in Mendoza. Not sure it was making my jeans fit any better, but who can turndown great food and even better company? Life is good.
We needed to get out of wine country so our livers and waistbands could recover, so we decided to head out together to drive the famous Ruta 40 towards Patagonia.