Drink Driving in Mendoza (On Bikes)

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April 18th 2009
Published: April 22nd 2009
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The hostel we are staying in is very quite and relaxing. They have a dog too so I like it here! The day we arrived we just had a look around the city centre of Mendoza. Most of what you do in Mendoza does not involve the town itself. It has nice big tree lined streets with plenty of restaurants and café’s. Our wine tour was outside the town so we needed to catch the bus to get there. Our bikes were only €7 for the day and we would collect them there off Mr. Hugo. We encountered a few problems before actually getting to the town where the wine our is. First the ATM’s in the bus station were not working so we had to walk into town to find one. After that we returned to the station to find our bus would not accept notes and we needed coins or a bus ticket. We had met a couple at the bus station who told us the queue for the ticket was nearly half an hour long. The other problem is that it is impossible to get coins in Argentina. There is a coin shortage here and people wont give you coins unless you buy something and the change requires coins. If you go into a shop they always make a big fuss about you having the exact change. We have been told that the coins are worth more melted but we don’t know for sure if that is true. Luckily the couple had credit on the bus ticket and we mustered together some coins. After the drama we were soon on the bus and on our way to collect our bikes of Mr. Hugo. The bus journey takes an hour approximately and we had one more problem before we got there. The bus broke down! We were starting to feel that this was not our day. We waited 10 or 15 minutes and another bus arrived and we all got on board. When we arrived at Mr. Hugo’s he was waiting for us. His wife showed us the routes and best vineyards to visit. The road was 9km each way, with the vineyards down side roads.

We started with the wine museum where they showed us how wine was first made and explained the process of wine making. They explained the difference in the making of red and white wine. Mendoza mainly produces red wine and of that it is normally Malbec. The Malbec grape grows the best in this region but they grow other varieties too. At the end of the tour we received a free glass of wine where a tip is optional. When we finished that tour we decided to have a bit of lunch as we had a big cycle in front of us. We had decided to start the trip at the end and work our way back to Mr. Hugo’s. On our way we had lost Katy. We had waited for awhile asking other cyclists who passed if they had seen her. No one had. We were pretty worried and decided to head to the first vineyard and ask them to ring Mr. Hugo’s to see if she had returned. We had noticed she was struggling with her bike. We thought maybe she got pee’d off and went to the chocolate factory which she had been excited about visiting.

First up was an Olive factory. We waited at the front to see would she arrive. Michelle thought she saw her going into the vineyard across the road. I went across to see if it was her but it wasn’t. When I got back to the olive factory the tour had begun so I just joined in. A few minutes later Katie arrived. The reason she was struggling to cycle was that she was riding with a flat tyre. She had rang Mr. Hugo and he came and replaced the bike. We thought that maybe that was the end of our troubles but more was to follow later. The tour here was free and we got to see how they make the different olive oil’s. Light coloured tree’s grow olives that are consumed as olive’s and dark tree’s are used to produce olive oil. At the end of the tour we were given some bread and sun dried tomatoes with olive oil. We were on the tour with some Germans as well. While we were waiting to dig in and eat the free food they kept asking lots of different (and what I would call irrelevant!). This delayed our mini feast and we all giggled like kids while we waited to pounce.

Our next stop was literally on the other side of the street. This was the vineyard of Carine. For 15peso (€3) we would get a tour of the vineyard and a taste of three wines. The tour was very good and gave us an understanding into wine making. The girl doing the tour was young and could answer any question that she was asked. Her knowledge was very impressive for her age. She was asked all sorts of questions about soil and irrigation and answered each one without batting an eye lid. The owners of the vineyard are from France. When they moved to Argentina they knew absolutely nothing about wine. They bought an old disused vineyard in 2003 and hired a consultant to get them started. They now have a very good vineyard and produce many types of wine. We got to taste a Rose, young Malbec and a matured Malbec. She explained how Rose used to be filled with sugar to make it easy for people to drink and that that is why it got it’s bad name. Apparently they are trying to change the image of Rose now by producing better grapes to make the wine. She also explained how they can control the growth of grapes through irrigation, so as to get the right sugar content in the grape for the wine.

Wine, when made either goes straight to the bottle or in to French or American oak casks. The wine that goes straight to the bottle can be very acidic and sharp. Wine stored in oak casks improve in flavour and lose their acidity. I asked could I try the grapes but they said that the harvest was a few weeks back and that none were in the vines. She did say though that there might be some grapes that were missed and that if I could find them I was more than welcome to them. It sounded like a challenge! After finishing tasting the wine I headed straight to the vineyard. It didn’t take me long to find a small bunch left behind. The Malbec grape is small and a lot sweeter than your average supermarket grape. The skin is thicker and there are maybe two or three pip’s in each one. As there is a high sugar content in them, my hands were all sticky after eating them. I shared them around with the others on the tour and everyone thought they were much sweeter and juicier. Soon we were back on our bikes and heading towards the Di Tommasi vineyard.

The tour of the vineyard was only 10peso this time. This bodega was all organic and only sold their wine from the vineyard. You can come to the shop on the grounds of the vineyard and they will deliver the wine to your house. The start of the tour showed us where all the old wine casks are. They no longer are used for storing wine and now store wine in their bottles. This vineyard had an excellent season a few years back where the grapes where just perfect and hence the wine was at its best quality. Because the wine was so good they decided to sell only 1000 bottles per year as they didn’t know when they would get a harvest as good again. The vineyard did not use labels and only numbers the bottles. These are left to gather dust which only adds to the image. The cost of a bottle was only 80peso, less than €20 but we just couldn’t justify spending that kind of money on wine (I could but there is two of us in it!!). We bought a bottle of the mid-range wine for 28peso between myself, Michelle and Katy.

As we left the vineyard a motorbike cop pulled into the yard. We were full sure we were going to get pulled for drink driving! All he wanted to say was that the other vineyards were closed and obviously no point going to them. All day there was a huge police presence on the 9km stretch of road. This led me to believe that the vineyards had an interest in making sure the tourists were safe at all times as it brings a big source of income and plenty of word of mouth business. Our journey home was not to be as simple. I had cycled on a bit from Michelle and Katy. I soon realised that they were no longer behind me. I decided to get off the bike and wait until they caught up. Five or so minutes passed without them arriving. I got back on my bike and in the process of doing a u-turn the chain came of the bike and got jammed between the wheel and the spoke’s. I was going nowhere. Soon though Michelle and Katie appeared over the hill with there own story. Michelle had an accident. A car driving in the wrong side of the road on the hard shoulder was coming towards her at a very slow pace. Michelle decided to go around the car and as she went on to the road she hit a lip on the tarmac. She fell off and cut her knee. Legend has it that she got straight back up and checked was the bottle of wine ok in the bag! After her fall two old ladies brought them over to their house and hosed down her leg. The guy in the car just kept driving. When she got to me she was laughing about it and this made me even more concerned. Maybe she had got a bang in the head and was going delirious!! With Michelle’s grazed knee and my oil covered hands we decided to ring Mr. Hugo to come and fix the bike. He arrived promptly and threw all three bikes into the back of the van and we all loaded into the front. He had no English but we all laughed the whole way back to his house. Here he plied us with more cheap wine before our bus arrived to take us home. That night we got a pizza take away and had it at the hostel. The next day we were to go horse riding and with sore ass’s from the bikes we wondered if that was a good idea at all!

In a bit. DH

Song of the blog: Bob Dylan - The Hurricane

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