Our last full day in Mendoza. Once again, we woke early, this time for a bicycle wine tour with Wine Tour Maipú Aventuras. We were picked up by a van, which took us to a dusty lot beside an old bodega. We met with our tour guides: a husband and wife, who took turns shepherding us between destinations.
It is indicative of the general linguistic atmosphere of this trip that I’ve started swearing, not in Spanish or even English, but in German. Of course, I know only the one word: Scheiße!
Our first stop was the Museo Nacional del Vino y la Vendimia (National Wine Museum). It is a large, ornate Italian villa, which belonged to one of the two immigrants who founded the winery “La Colina de Oro” in 1898. It sported large windows, two of which were shaped like keyholes, and there were flower motifs scattered throughout the decor.
Our museum tour was led by a very young, pleasant maipucina. The first floor of the mansion was partly bare: just the desks and dining room table that had served the original inhabitants, but with chandeliers in nearly every room. They had a toilet painted with an obscene profusion of pink flowers. That’s what you do when you own a giant wine company, I suppose. There was also a stunning red stained-glass window set into the ceiling (with a chandelier dangling from it, of course).
The second floor had a more interesting variety of exhibits. There was a room lined with fancy wines in glass cases, and walls covered with photos of their winery from when it was in use. Another room had a central case that displayed dried leaves from all the grape varietals they use (separated between plants used for red vs. white wines).
There were several rooms devoted to works by local artists, both metal sculptures and surreal paintings (mostly incorporating vineyard themes). There was also a room dedicated to the Reinas de Maipú, annual winners of a local beauty pageant-esque thing.
We finished the tour by walking along the second-floor balcony, which had vines snaking up around its edges. We had a view of the entire grounds: a vast smooth lawn with flowering trees, very much in contrast with the small single-story buildings of the surrounding town.
We left the museo and returned to the dusty lot to collect the rest of our tour (another group of three tourists). Then, we did a walking tour of the Old Giol Winery, a giant facility that is now non-productive but is still open for tours. We wandered through cavernous rooms whose only light came from the old blocky windows near the ceiling. They were crowded with wine barrels twice my height, and everything was permeated with a strange smell: ancient moldy grapes? We were allowed to climb up a ladder and walk around on top of the wine barrels, which was rather neat.
We descended into the wine cellars. Near the bottom of the stairs, there were two giant metal bulls’ heads mounted on the wall. The guide asked us what we thought they might have been used for. When nobody guessed correctly, she informed us that they had been used to store bulls’ blood, with which the winery infused some of their red wines. How macho.
As we walked deeper into the shadowy cellars, I started thinking to myself: “Oh dear, I feel like I’m in ‘The Cask of Amontillado.'” Moments later, we stopped beside a tiny hole in the wall. The guide told us that it was a ceramic vat that used to be used for storing white wine. She shouted into the opening, and her voice reverberated for a full minute afterward. Then, she asked us: would we like to go inside the vat? Well, er, certainly. We all squeezed through the narrow opening, and stumbled to our feet inside. We’d thought it was dark in the cellars, but in here, it was pitch-black, with light coming only in bursts as my tour-mates took flash photographs. I don’t know how large the vat was, but seemed very deep, and every footstep and breath was magnified and amplified. I wandered to the back of the vat, finding it interesting to walk in near-blindness. Then, we all found our way back to the tiny hole and crawled out. To my delight, we did not get walled up in there Amontillado-style, and instead ascended into the brighter dimness of the main floor.
The tour guide showed us an extra-enormous wine barrel, decorated with images of the Giol winery grounds in their heyday. Then, we walked to a different area for our first wine tasting: a malbec, a malbec roble, and a chardonnay. They were all quite tasty. There was a giant metal bull statue near the entrance of the tasting area, and we were informed that, if we touched its giant metallic testicles, we would have good luck.
After the wine tasting, we returned to the dusty lot and received our bicycles: mountain bikes with low handlebars. They didn’t seem to have shocks, so they jolted my wrists horribly with every bump. Still, once we had biked out of the city center and into the country streets (with an actual bike lane), it was a pleasant ride.
Our first bicycle stop was an organic winery, Cecchin Vinicultores. We were given a tour by an Argentine-Swiss gentleman. We gazed out at their vineyards, and he told us about how they irrigate: no pesticides, no non-organic fertilizers, etc. Then, we walked around and looked at their wine vats and processing machines: a much lighter, cleaner feel than the previous bodega.
After the tour, we had our second tasting. It included a delicious, floral rosado (rosé). We also tried various types of malbeca, including one without sulphite and a sharper-flavored one. They also sold honey and jam made from/by the local trees and bees.
After the organic wine tasting, we biked through more country streets, passing an attractive rural town with a picturesque church. Just when my wrists were beginning to give out, we arrived at our final destination: a large grassy yard, shaded by trees and with a small vineyard next door (visible through a thin fence). There was also a half-size rectangular swimming pool, which looked enticing in the desert heat.
At this point, we stumbled upon a patch of confusion: the tour guides were preparing an asado (barbeque). We had purchased the basic tour, which did not include a meal, whereas the other three people all had a different tour package that included the asado. (Our tour-mates had also been informed that they would be stopping at a spa and at five different wineries, which obviously was not the case.) The plan for the rest of the evening was to eat asado and swim in the pool, but we didn’t have our swimsuits either, as the booking agency hadn’t mentioned we should bring them.
Like yesterday’s adventure tours, the inadequacy of the booking agency was completely made up for by the sheer wonderfulness of the actual tour agency. As we sat in the shade crunching our dry sandwiches, watching the guides prepare the asado, the male guide came over to us and invited us to share the barbeque with them, even though it wasn’t part of our package. How darn nice!
We settled down at a large round table for meat, chorizo sausage, tomato salad, and an abundance of red and white wines. We chatted past the meal, and then ambled over to the pool. Since we didn’t have our swimsuits, we thought we might just dip our feet in. Eventually, through gentle peer pressure from the others, we jumped all the way into the pool in our clothes. My poor sunburnt shoulders rejoiced at how refreshing it was.
There were a number of small dogs who lived in this yard, who dashed back and forth and occasionally stayed by our sides to shower us with affection. One of them was compact and dark and cuddly. We nicknamed her Malbeca, after the Argentine wine, and we eventually learned that her real name was Mora (“blackberry”).
We spent the rest of the evening lounging around the pool with glasses of wine or beer. The guides also shared a bottle of homemade wine, which was obscenely sweet but delicious. We felt as though we’d been welcomed into the guides’ family. They made every effort to ensure that we were welcomed and fed (even those of us on the basic tour). I spent a chunk of time in interesting conversation with the lady guide, who, when she’s not guiding, is a professor of physics. After sunset, we settled down in a circle and shared a traditional gourd full of mate. Then, we bid farewells and jumped in the van back to our hostel.
Back at the hostel, one of our new hostel-friends prepared another asado, oy! This one was extra-juicy; we ate it with white wine and a salad while sitting on patio chairs under the starry sky. Our friend showed us photos of his family and travels until late into the night, before we finally clambered to bed.
I was telling my mother about my wine tour day, and she sternly asked, “Were you drinking?” (She is a lovely creature who takes after her own mother sometimes, rather like how even chickens have a pecking order.)