Sitting on a patio in the sun, a glass of malbec in your hand, looking out over the fields of grapes with the Andes in the background.
Mendoza. The primary wine growing region of Argentina, specializing in Malbec.
So that’s what a day in Mendoza should look like right? Right.
Our time in Mendoza looked a little different.
Top tip: Don’t do what we did
We arrived in the evening when everything was already dark. Our hotel was a little ways out of the centre of town, which we had not seen yet. We checked in, dropped our bags, and went in search for food.
Although our hotel appeared to be only slightly removed from the centre of town when looking at a map, the truth is, the atmosphere was like we were in the middle of the wild west. There were hardly any restaurants (we settled for some more very weird Argentinian pizza), and the streets were pretty much deserted except for the occasional shady looking character. But the thing that stuck us the most was the kiosks. Instead of the standard little minimarts that we had come to expect, the kiosks were now permanently behind bars. Patrons would inspect the wares through the metal bars, request their purchase, and then pass their money through the bars. We thought initially this was just a night time practice, but we were wrong. That was business as usual for the kiosks in this part of town.
The next morning we made it into the center of town, and things did improve. Town was pretty normal with big squares, pedestrian only streets, buskers and plenty of cafes and restaurants. We sourced a rental car and decided to try to visit the wineries on our own instead of going on one of the, fairly expensive, tours.
In the evening Simon took the car and drove around the wineries near to town. He reported that instead of the boutique wineries offering tastings with cheese pairings that we have grown accustomed to in Australia, that the vineyards he saw were more of the commercial type, with no visitor centers and with vast slums housing the workers next door.
So we decided instead to check out the Uco region which was a further drive away from Mendoza. The night before our road trip, I meticulously plotted on my offline map app the location of the wineries that you can visit without an appointment, as per the advice of a brochure obtained at the visitor center.
The next morning we packed the kids into the car bright and early and set off. After about an hour of driving we arrived to the first winery… or at least… where it should have been. We found nothing but industrial looking buildings and road works. So we headed to the next winery. This one we found – but it was a processing center that did not allow visitors. We headed out again, this time findings the remains of what would have been a large tourist tasting center – complete with giant wine bottle statues. Unfortunately the idea seemed to never have come to fruition as everything was empty and padlocked.
Fuck this. Lets go to the hot springs instead.
The Cacheuta hot springs, located about 45 minutes from Mendoza, are definitely worth the trip. The facility is comprised of several levels, with dozens of pools, both indoor and outdoor. Some of the pools are quite hot, others comfortably warm, while others are cool. There is even a massive water slide. Jacob had a wonderful time splashing and playing in all the different pools, and we even had the opportunity to get Z into his matching swimsuit.
We could have spent a much longer time at the hot pools, but we had only rented the car for one day so we had to return it before our flight from Mendoza to Bariloche.
We spent two days in Mendoza, and we spent more of the time drinking beer than drinking Malbec.
What we learned
Mendoza is not like Australia where each and every winery is open to the public. And while there are plenty of wineries which are open (apparently – according to pretty much everyone else we spoke to that visited Mendoza) you need to either have a much better plan in place, or better yet, just go on a tour.
Soon we are heading to Santiago, which is near another famous South American wine region. This time, we will do the tour.