Biking Through Wine Country in Argentina

Written By: jeff

Posted On: January 9th, 2011

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Ringing the Bell at DiTomasso Vineyard. Copyright

I boarded my bus in Bariloche on Sunday afternoon bound for Mendoza.  It was a redeye that would take 17 hours arriving around 9:30AM on Monday.  Luckily in South America, the long-haul buses tend to be fairly nice.  The basic seats (semi-cama) recline halfway and if you are willing to pay a bit more, you can get the seats that recline completely flat (cama).  The difference in price is about $10USD.

By the time I bought my ticket, the cama seats were sold out, but it didn’t matter.  The ride was comfortable and I saw some amazing scenery wishing that we could stop in certain spots for pictures.  The trick to the long-haul bus ride is to make sure you have plenty of alimentos (food and beverage) for the trip.  Some buses serve or have people coming on the bus to sell to you.  Others make enough stops on the way so you don’t have to pack much. Others go straight through with few stops.  So, it never hurts to have a little extra water and maybe a snack to tide you over.

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Lujan Valley Outside of Mendoza. Copyright

We arrived on time in Mendoza at 9:30AM.  With so many things in Argentina and South America generally that run behind, I am always amazed at the timeliness of the bus lines.  They really are run well and typically much easier and enjoyable than what most airlines can offer.  And, of course, significantly cheaper.  This isn’t like riding Greyhound back in the US.

I grabbed a taxi in Mendoza and met up with Kim at our hostel.  She had done quite a bit of research on the wine area already.  So, we grabbed a local bus (about 90 cents USD roundtrip) to the outskirts of Maipu, one of the wine towns in the area.

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Off and Rolling. Copyright

Our intent was to rent bikes and ride from vineyard to vineyard tasting the wine.  A couple of young kids approached us and offered us bikes for 20 pesos, less than $7USD for the day.  So, we went to Señora Coca’s bike shop, a true mom and pop organization.  Later we found out that some of the other bike places charge 35 pesos, so we definitely got a deal.

We had grand visions of visiting tons of vineyards; but on our first afternoon, we only got through 2: Bodega La Rural and Bodega Cavas Del Conde.  Both included full vineyard tours.  We figured that slowed us down too much so the next day we would ask to skip the tours to get right to the good stuff.  The first place, Bodega La Rural, also included a museum tour that came highly recommended.  We got a nice pour, but only sampled one wine.  This vineyard makes a couple of good wines, San Felipe and Rutini.  It was a good place to start, but we definitely had better along at other places along the way.

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Checking out the wine. Copyright

On our way to Cavas Del Conde, we stopped off for a late lunch and got a plate full of 8 different cheeses, breads, meats, etc to pick at.  Neither of us like olives so we asked if we could substitute a little extra cheese.  The woman asked if we’d prefer rabbit.  Uh, YEAH!  It was quite tasty and just right to tide us over until dinner.

We headed off to Cavas, an artisan winery.  We were met by the owner, an elderly man full of charm and character.  He told us right off that there was no charge to visit, but we would have to buy a bottle of wine at the end for 10 pesos.  We agreed and off we went.  We had some nice wine and decided to buy a 20 peso bottle.  When we headed out, it was close to 6PM.  So, we returned the bikes, headed back to Mendoza for dinner in the town center and then went back to the hostel to get some sleep knowing we had a full day of wine tasting ahead of us.

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Picture's a little fuzzy. So, were we after a little wine tasting! Copyright

We made it back to Maipu around 10-10:30AM, picked up our bikes and headed out.  The weather was again perfect except for a little wind.  But, the sun was out and the Andes mountains could be seen beyond the vineyards to the west.

Well, despite getting an earlier start, we still only managed 3 vineyards.  Now, we did try to go into 2 others that were closed.  So, we did actually attempt 5.  Our first vineyard didn’t take visitors so we got back on the road and Kim’s bike had a flat. Luckily we were near a small kiosk where we called Señora Coca to come change the tire.  In the meantime, we enjoyed some of the pan dulces (pastries) that the kiosk had to offer.  After a quick tire change, we headed off to another vineyard – also closed to visitors.

Finally, we found a vineyard with a tasting room, Di Tommaso.  Again, this was an artisan vineyard.  We opted to skip the wine tour and go straight to the tasting.  For 10 pesos(~$3USD), we got 5 wines (small pours).  Next we made our way to Viña El Cerno, another artisan vineyard.  For 35 pesos (~$10USD), we got 5 tastes (nice big pours, half-full glasses).  Kim also gave the champagne a try and liked it.  Our host, Veronica, was great and we enjoyed talking to her and an young Ozzie couple that was there too.

We went off to our next vineyard which was close, Tempus Alba.  On the way, Kim discovered that her other tire was flat.  Luckily, the vineyard was in walking distance.  We entered, ordered our wine, and our host called Señora Coca to come change the flat.  This was by far our favorite wine so far that we tried.  We had been discouraged from coming and couldn’t figure out why.  The atmosphere was great – thoroughly modern and new versus the more traditional estates we had seen elsewhere.  We were starving and saw they served nuts and olives.  Unfortunately the nuts were gone so we had to hang on.

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Flower Clock in Maipu. Copyright

Around 6ish, we made our way back to Señora Coca’s on bike and, luckily, downhill.  We were hungry and decided to go to the town of Maipu and find a place to eat near the beautiful town center.  There were few options but we found a place where we could sit outside and sate our hunger.  We headed back to the hostel to get some much needed rest.

On Wednesday, Kim and I split up.  She went on another tour up to the mountains for the day.  There were some vineyards that I knew of prior to coming that I really wanted to visit.  So, I went to Señora Coca’s to get a bike and a ride to the town of Lujan.  I got a little annoyed with Señora Coca’s because the previous day they offered to take me to Lujan for 20 pesos (too far to bike before and certainly after wine).  Unfortunately, the one offering me the ride didn’t clearly understand when I told him I would be coming alone.  So, when I showed up alone, the price magically went up to 60 pesos.  I explained that I told them that this would be the case and any notion they had about me bringing others was their notion.  I hadn’t deceived them and I was up front.  They knew it and backed down.  I did wind up paying an extra 10 pesos primarily because it was already 11 and if I walked away, I might not have gotten to Lujan in time to visit any wineries.

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Ceramic memorial in Mendoza's center. Copyright

My bad luck continued and I concluded that I should’ve gone to the mountains today. After my less than stellar start, I couldn’t find a vineyard open to the public, or at least open to walk-ins.  Norton, one of the largest in Argentina, required phone reservations and despite being at the front gate, I couldn’t make a reservation onsite.  Terrazas didn’t take visitors at all.  Others were too far away to get to on bike (even though on the map it looks really close to the others). I finally gave up, headed back into Lujan for lunch and called Señora Coca to pick up the bike. Then it was on the bus back to Mendoza to the hostel.  My biggest conclusion was that the best way to do the biking around Mendoza was near the artisan wineries.  The other option is to join a package tour to be able to get into some of the larger vineyards.

Originally Published September 5, 2007

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One Response to “Biking Through Wine Country in Argentina”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by clickdottravel, Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: The Sunday Read: Biking Through the Wine Country in Mendoza, Argentina from Jeff's Travel Blog. [...]

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