Welcome to the land of wine. Mendoza is the capital of the wine industry in South America, producing grapes and bottles coveted all over the world. Mendoza is more than its wine though, being at the centre of Argentinas complex history, a symbol of cultural growth and an impossible oasis in the Andean desert.
Wine is undeniably Mendoza’s leading force. With their 1,200 vineyards, they produce 80% of Argentina’s wine. To put this into bottle-size figures, that’s 1.7billion bottles a year, one for every four people on the planet. Apart from the sheer mass of wine made here, the quality is pretty significant too. The hot climate creates high sugar levels, adding to the natural alcohol levels when it’s fermented. This means the final product is achieved with less processing and ageing, making a rich wine with none of the offensiveness. Why do I suddenly sound like a wine pomp? Mendoza’s tour industry revolves around its vineyards. Hundreds of tours go everyday, for you to soak in the knowledge from these wine gurus or soak in the wine itself! Organised half day or full day tours are available, for an easy yet pricey day, but a cycle round Maipu gives the full house in terms of experience. Get a local bus from central Mendoza, hire a bike from one of the lovely local companies and get pedalling. We were shown a map of some fourteen wineries in the area, and cycled to three for a boozy afternoon. Some are happy to let you taste the wine while you look out across their vineyard, others have a very serious wine consultation, in which all the complex details are given. By the end of the day we had great memories and wobbly bikes! Regular wine drinker or experienced connoisseur, Maipu has it all.
The town of Mendoza is a grid centred around five squares. Between the four corner squares, long tree-lined roads, and central Plaza Indepencia, the town feels roomy and fresh. See the clever irrigation systems, the telling murals and the jolly craft markets. For an insight into the history of Mendoza, Tours4Tips is a free walking tour, with a local guide who’ll share the ins and outs of the home with you. Learn about the significance of the Gaucho, the complex relationship with Spain, the uncertain future of art, the role of agriculture and the story of the nation’s hero San Martin.
As you’ve probably guessed, Mendoza doesn’t have a huge amount of water sports. Their idea of adventure, is horseback riding. 990 pesos can get you an evening of sunset horse riding, a proper asado barbecue, wine and I hate to be cheesy but wonderful memories. The horses? Some are obedient, others proud and feisty, others cheeky and hungry -like James’s Chiquita, who was on a mission to eat the entire mountain and gave no shits about his frantic rein tugging. That aside, the horses are beautiful, strong, exquisite creatures, and the ride is picturesque.
Our route brought us from Pucon back into Santiago, from which we took the bus to Mendoza. We unknowingly crossed a notoriously tricky border, that can take up to eight hours to get through. Once again the Andes play a part in the lives of people here, as sudden weather changes make the mountains unpassable. It creates backlogs in transport, trade and tourism. If you’re making the Santiago – Mendoza crossing, try to check upcoming weather and possible storms, although not many can predict the mood of mountain. The border is simply stunning. From the low mounds and green farms, the ground rises into hills, then through the valleys grows into mountains. The road tunnels through the rock and comes out into a masterpiece of white and grey.