Upon returning to Mendoza we checked back into the hostel Bed for Wine, a place we had found haphazardly on our first visit to the wine capital of Argentina. It may seem strange that we were going back to somewhere we had already been, but the decision was the result of two factors. The first factor being that I was still without a passport, which forced us to abandon our original plan of going to Chile before heading back to eastern Argentina. The second factor was that our friend Matthew, who we had met in Puerto Natales, was going to meet us there.
As a bonus, Matthew could drive a manual car and was willing to drive us to the Uco Valley, one of the best wine producing regions of Mendoza. We were unable to get there on our first visit because automatic cars are too expensive to rent and public transport was not an option. Tip to travellers, learn to drive manual!
We spent the afternoon going from rental agency to rental agency and found one renting a car for 750 pesos a day. With our papers sorted we relaxed with free happy hour wine at Matthew’s hostel and headed back at a reasonable hour for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much sleep because the room was boiling hot. The last time we were in Mendoza the rain, unusual for the region, had cooled things down. Now we were experiencing the regular intolerable heat and the open windows meant mosquito attacks and sounds from the courtyard. To top it off, a group of lost drunk people walked into our room at 3am and stood there yelling at each other about how they thought they had the wrong room. There was no way we could stay for another night.
We were late meeting Matthew since we had to check out of our hostel, but he was understanding and also turned out to be a fantastic driver, only almost driving on the wrong side of the road once or twice the entire time. He managed to stay very calmed navigating his way out of the city as Steph gave directions from her phone.
O. Fournier winery was our first stop. The owner of O. Fournier is only in his 40s and gave up a job in banking to move to Mendoza and start a winery. The building, concrete and rather futuristic looking against the backdrop of the mountains, has won countless design awards and the wines have taken home some of Argentina’s top prizes. As always we showed up with no reservation for a tour, but it didn’t seem to matter. The tour cost $200 pesos each, but our guide was kind enough to let Matthew in for free as our designated driver. The winery has one of South America’s largest cellars where art exhibitions and concerts are often hosted among the barrels.
My favourite part was the tasting. Since it was just the three of us, with our guide, were able to diverge from the standard wine tour conversation and talk about life in Argentina and national politics. With a newly elected president, everyone had an opinion on politics. Then the conversation turned to craft beer, Steph’s passion, and our guide mentioned that there was a craft brewery in nearby Village de Manzana, so we decided to check it out.
It took 30 minutes to navigate our way there only to find the brewery was not open. The visitor’s centre told us that we could go to the brewer’s house and ask for a tasting. Finding the idea of going to a stranger’s home and asking for beer a bit weird, we decided to head to the local food stalls where a father-son team was making the biggest lomos (steak sandwiches) we had ever seen. We only managed to eat one between the three of us, washing it down with beer that was definitely not craft.
After lunch, we headed to a very high-end winery. We opted to skip the tour as we were starting to find them redundant and opted to share two glasses in the restaurant. To be honest it was not our favourite stop of all, which is why I am not naming it. I’m not saying that they weren’t well-made wines. Perhaps it was the luxuriousness of the winery compared to others we had been to that affected our perception. Perhaps months of the bohemian backpacker lifestyle made us feel too out of place in the very formal feeling tasting bar, or, perhaps it was the fly that landed in my ridiculously expensive glass of Sauvignon Blanc, who knows.
Our final stop of the day was a bit haphazard. Having no intentions of stopping anymore, we drove past a small very laid back looking winery called Azul with mismatched furniture in a little outdoor cafe. We accidentally drove right into their fruit orchard before figuring out where the actual entrance was. Woops. When we sat down we expected to be given a flight of wine and be left alone to taste as the place appeared to be quite busy. To our surprise, our host sat with us for the entire tasting and gave us some great information about the wine.
He was even honest about which wines he thought the winemaker did a better job on. This was the advantage of visiting the smaller wineries, the bigger ones had the front-of-house staff spit out their rehearsed lines about the wines, but this guy had passion and knew the product. We finished the tour in the very small cellaring room and were able to taste a barrel sample of their most premium wine, which is only available in Argentina’s most high-end hotels.
Finally, it was time to head back so that we could check into our new hostel, Hostel Lao, where Matthew, who had only been stealing a sip here and there could start drinking too. Hostel Lao had some of the best customer services we had experienced in a hostel thus far and the person at the front desk told us that if we bought food from the supermarket some of the guys at the hostel would cook it for us.
So our last evening in Mendoza and with Matthew was spent prepping dinner with the other hostel guests. Since we were leaving at 8pm the following evening, they allowed us to hang around all day after checking out to cook and use the internet before strapping on our bags and heading to the Mendoza bus station for the 5th and final time of our trip.
Next stop Cordoba!