Goldilocks and the Three Wineries

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 21, 2010 was originally posted on December 23, 2010.

DAY 6:  When the original Italian winemakers came to Argentina — a century before escaped Nazis from Germany made home in Argentina — they probably had no idea that in the future of the 21st century, tourists would flock to the Mendoza region to choose from several competitve bicycle rental companies so that visitors could be drunk on wine while attempting to ride from vineyard to vineyard without wiping out.  The most known bicycle company is “Mr. Hugo” because everyone and their mothers recommended it — secretly because they were all getting a commission — in what a simple Google search result said was a shady racket. 

“Apparently Mr. Hugo is the only thing that exists,” Emily said sarcastically after hearing Mr. Hugo’s name a sixth time that morning.  “Fuck Mr. Hugo!”  We were determined to give our business elsewhere, and thankfully a travel agent in town named Ana mentioned that there are several bike companies to choose from (after recommending Mr. Hugo of course, but admitting her commission).

The choosing of bike companies really isn’t an issue unless you make it one when you ride from vineyard to vineyard — once you get there, that is. The Mendoza vineyards are actually not in the city of Mendoza, but in neighboring towns like Maípu, where we took the Number 10 public bus to, after trying to sort my southbound flight to Patagonia at the InterMzza travel agency.  The bus ride was about half an hour, long enough for Ina, Emily and me to sort through which of the dozen vineyards to visit, with our guidebooks and our free copy of the local Wine Republic magazine.  Right before boarding the bus in Mendoza, we had been approached by a tout who wasn’t too pushy, who gave us flyers for a competing bicycle company, Maípu Bikes, which we said we’d consider.  (He was happy that we actually didn’t have a pre-arranged voucher with Mr. Hugo.) 

“We speak English,” was his selling point.

“We speak Spanish,” Emily told him.

“We?” Ina questioned her friend.

Another young man touted us with Maípu Bike flyers on the bus when we were about to disembark, and he was nice enough to show us the way.  However, a tout from Orange Bikes walked with us, begging in Spanish for us to go with him 20 meters away in the hot sun. 

“This guy says he’ll give it to us for fifteen,” I translated to the girls.  “Free wine and water.”  The standard deal from every company, many of which charged 25 Argentine pesos. 

“It’s so hot; I just don’t feel like walking anymore,” Emily said; we were standing in front of Maípu Bikes as it is.  “Can we get it for twenty?” she asked the boss there.

“Okay, but don’t tell the others; they’re paying twenty-five.”  We all made gestures of zippers at our mouths.  The Orange Bikes guy went away.

We were given cold water while waiting for them to sort out the suckers paying twenty-five, which gave Emily and I time to goof off with the little bikes and trikes in the yard.  Soon enough we had our adult bikes — baskets for women only, much to my chagrin — and were off to drink and bike between the vineyards without a designated driver.

“BIENBEBIDOS” WAS WRITTEN ON A SIGN at the Viña de Cerro vineyard — one of the oldest of the region since the early 19th century — which made me smile.  (It’s a pun in Spanish combining “welcome” and “good drinks”.)  “There’s some sort of bike rack here,” Ina pointed out.  A small sign said it was “exclusive parking” for the Bikes & Wines rental company, which we blatantly ignored; there were only two other bikes there, parked on the side.

“They probably set these up so they can market that they have exclusive parking at the vineyards,” I noted. 

A middle-aged man named Oscar approached us in Spanish with our options.  We knew the tour of the grounds would drag on, so we went straight for the important stuff: food and wine.  However, it was the presentation of the wine tasting in an old, rustic room of barrels and fermentation vats that dragged on.  An Italian Swiss guy named Giordano who looked like a young Jean Reno presented a thorough lecture of all their wines:  the young “Wayna” line (only available in Argentina, but with limited distribution in Canada), the “Utopia” line with 30% of it “ag-ed” (he pronounced it with two syllables), and the old, ag-ed Viña de Cerro reserves. 

“Cranky Emily’s about to come out,” she whispered to me; we were hungry and just wanted to get on with the drinking, and he was talking to us for close to half an hour.

To spare you the lecture, we eventually asked our host his favorite: the Utopia cabernet sauvignon.  “It’s like velvet,” he raved about the young wine with just enough of the old to give it a kick.  “Smooth like velvet in your mouth.”  And it was, when I tasted it, but only because I had those words in my head.

“It’s like velvet,” I said to my wine tasting friends.

A comparison of the young and old Malbecs, and a taste of the white Torrontes rounded out my four pours at that first, old winery, and from there we hopped on our bikes and followed the sign back to where the other wineries were (picture above) so that there’s no confusion for the inebriated. 

“[Don’t go this way.]  It’s in English only,” Ina pointed out.

We eventually ended up at Tempus Alba, a newer winery built in 1950, which was a lot more chic and modern looking, with its stainless steel fermination vats, contemporary wooden interior design, and loungey music.  “This is very Napa,” Emily pointed out, noting the large fields of grapevines where workers were walking in the hot sun. A pretty Argentine woman served us each a tasting; this time I went for their syrah, malbec, and a blend — the second was my favorite — and I complemented it with a fine variety of empanadas since I was already feeling the buzz.

I HAD BEEN TRYING to think of a good pun to name this entry based on “The Grapes of Wrath,” but nothing came to mind in terms of a rhyme or alliteration.  (The closest was “The Grapes of Math” because I couldn’t figure out the math in my head for three round trips to put on the rechargeable bus card.)  However, when it became apparent that we probably would only have time for three vineyards that day, I realized I might have a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” comparison.

“You’re right,” Emily said as we arrived at our third vineyard.  “The first one was too old, and the second one was too chic, but this one is exactly what I’d picture it to be.”

Just right.

We had ridden our bikes to the vineyard of La Familia di Tommaso, established in 1869, which had the classic vineyard feel to it, with old buildings, grape presses, old winemaking tools, brickfaced fermentation vats, wagons with oak barrels in them, and of course, a whole lot of grapevines.  We had arrived with about eight other people, all in for the last tasting of the day.  It sort of felt like a school lecture the way the tasting room was laid out, so us cool kids sat in the back, stared at the ceiling, patiently waiting for the vino to arrive.  We did our visual, olfactory, and taste tests and were ready for more.  The last tasting was of a sweet dessert wine, served in shot glasses — which only made Emily and I dance around singing that fist pumping song about shots.

“Shots shots shots shots shot, shots shots shots shots shot…” we sang.  I don’t think Ina knew what we were dancing about.

We made an attempt to go to the big famous Trapiche winery, but they had closed promptly at five.  The Goldilocks title remained.  However when we returned our bikes back at the shop, we were given a complimentary full pour, which obviously made us happy.

“Cheers, salud, prost!” we toasted to a great day out.

It took us a while to get coins for the return bus because of that “Grapes of Math” miscalculation; no one in Argentina apparently has change or is willing to give change even if you bigger units of currency. So I faked the motions of buying all three tickets from the automated ticket machine on board.  No one noticed.

Getting bus tickets wasn’t easy as getting plane tickets; we went immediately back to the InterMzza travel agency where a guy named Victor had worked on securing my reservation to the colder regions of Patagonia, even with a power outage earlier that afternoon.  Emily and Ina tried to figure out the pros and cons of spending the extra money to see Iguazu Falls (since Emily “triangulated the data” and determined it truly was a must-see if it wasn’t too expensive), but in the end it was only me that left with a flight: Santiago to Punta Arenas, in southern Chilean Patagonia — which meant I had to leave my friends abruptly to get on the overnight bus back to the Chilean capital.  We would have had enough time for a nice last early evening out, but it took two hours to wait for my foreign credit card to approve (they didn’t take Amex), which left me with only about an hour to get back to the hostel, pack my bags, and get back to the bus terminal.  We made amazing time (sans showering) and even squeezed in one last meal that I unfortunately had to cut short and jet — but not without saying goodbye.

“Bye Ina!” I bid her farewell in a friendly embrace.  “We’ll be Facebook friends.”

“Bye!”’ Emily said, as we hugged and kissed the end of our time together (on this trip at least).  Five full-on days felt like weeks.

“Bye! I’ll miss you,” I told my new travel BFF. “But I’ll just see you when I get back.”

And so ended the first part of this “Chill Out in Chile” (and Argentina) trip blog, in the warm weather of the southern hemisphere’s summer.  I rushed off in the night alone again, not knowing who I’d meet next…


Sadly, Emily realized she left her camera on the bus to Mendoza, which meant I was on duty to take photos for her, and Ina during the rest of their travels together.  “I got you covered,” I said jokingly; we both knew I was snapping left and right throughout the day.  However, this meant I would also have to continue shooting pictures for her quirky Gallery of Shoes, which I was happy to do.

Next entry: 25 South

Previous entry: Adopted Families

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Comments for “Goldilocks and the Three Wineries”

  • Greetings from Patagonia, after a grueling 25 hours in transit.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  03:07 AM

  • the ‘feeling the buzz’ pic is the best!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  03:27 AM

  • “Fuck Mr. Hugo!” OMG sounds like your having a blast, and he…. hubba hubba!

    Posted by billy  on  12/23  at  03:52 AM

  • If you come across “Marcus” Malbec in your travels southward, don’t ask any questions just order it.  It is delicioso.  Are you on your way to Torres del Paine?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  05:41 PM

  • “it’s like velvet…”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  11:14 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
25 South

Previous entry:
Adopted Families


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