Grape expectations

Mendoza is world renowned for its vineyards

A last-minute trip to Mendoza was one final treat to myself before starting the new job on the following Friday. Having spontaneously decided on Saturday evening to book the flights, I jetted off from nearby domestic airport Jorge Newbury Aeroparque 24 hours later.

Situated to the east of the Andes and western border with Chile, Greater Mendoza is the largest producing wine region in Latin America. Noted also for olive oil production, this part of the world is most distinguished by its grapes which constitute renowned Argentine wine Malbec. Very much the purpose of my visit, I booked in a bicycle tour around the bodegas (vineyards) upon my arrival at the hostel on the Sunday night.

The next morning at the hostel I indulged in Argentinian breakfast staple dulce de leche on sweet bread (routinely cited by Argentinian expats around the world as the thing they miss the most about home). After this and a leisurely amble through the impressive Parque San Martin General, large enough to boast two different football stadiums, I went to the meeting point for the walking tour.

Truly a product of Andean aridness, our dry host entertainingly signposted the history of the city in two or three hours, bemoaning an apparent tradition of national incompetence along the way. Notwithstanding that, the simplistic yet ingenious grid layout of the city is worth a quick note. Revolving around central point Plaza Independencia, all block roadsigns reference their location relative to the plaza (i.e. ‘2 Norte’ means you are two blocks north of ’Independencia). Providing further clarity on this idiot-proofing urban design concept, Marcelo made the helpful comment, ‘And if you are really lost, just look for the Andes – they are always to the west, they never move’.

The most interesting insight for me though was the conquistadores-biased statue in Plaza España. As can be seen, the statue depicts the woman symbolising Argentina (with the grapes in her left hand) turning in deference to lady Spain, by whom her right hand is pinned down. The Spanish symbol meanwhile does not engage eye contact and clutches a book in her right hand, emphasising the need to educate and civilise the natives. If this metaphor is not clear enough, deliberately above the downtrodden farmer from Mendoza ploughing the land for his new masters, there is an Armada ship heading from the direction of Spain to Argentina. So displeased were some of the locals by this depiction and accompanying storyboard of the conquest that various graffiti defaces this otherwise culturally rich monument.

Tuesday was all about the vineyard tour, and it was great fun to cycle from bodega to bodega in the sunshine, a little wobblier as the day progressed. Each winery sold us its own version of a family heritage, significance of the grape and tour of the brewery and its equipment. With all due respect however the best part every time was the tasting. The various wines seemed to improve as the day wore on as well, funnily enough.

This was sandwiched between nights out until the little hours sampling the local reds with some Australian and Dutch backpackers I had met on the walking tour. The second of these sessions culminated in my first ever missed flight in fact. As penance for this and a warning to my future self, instead of a later flight I opted for a 20-hour bus journey home to Buenos Aires. Indeed, you can take the boy out of Mendoza – very slowly and painfully in this case – but you can’t take Mendoza out of the boy.

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