06/26/23-07/02/23 – Enocycling

Our time of training and staging in Buenos Aires has come to an end. As our equipment is being transferred to Salta, where we will premiere the reincarnated Messi10 show, we are currently on a short break. During this break, I am spending some time cycling around Mendoza.

Day 1 – Maipú
I arrived in Mendoza late on Monday night and began my bike wine tour on Tuesday morning. My first stop was Bodega Lopez, a winery situated in nearby Maipú, where I enjoyed a quick but generous glass of wine that put me in a festive mood early on. After that, I headed to Finca Agostino for a lunch paired with wine. It turned out to be a five-course meal that took longer than I anticipated. Once I finished the lunch, I had to cycle at a robust tempo for an hour to make it on time for today’s final wine tasting at Bodega Santa Julia, which is owned by the Zuccardi family. A few years ago, Julie and I visited their other winery in Uco Valley, and I remember liking their wine, which is why I chose this one. After a few glasses, it became difficult to push the pedals, but I managed to slowly but surely make my way back to my B&B. In total, I cycled a distance of 90 km, visited three bodegas, and tasted ten wines.

Day 2 – Maipú/Luján de Cuyo
I started the day at LAUR Olivícola, where I tasted various olive oils accompanied by amuse-bouche and a glass of wine. Don’t worry, I didn’t start my day with a glass of wine; my day began earlier with breakfast, and the glass of wine came around noon. Afterward, I walked across the street to Bodega Carinae, which used to be owned by a French couple. The new owners are making changes: their wines are not as heavy as the old style favored by the previous owners. I tried both varieties and prefer the lighter ones. Even the label designs are more modern and clever. By lunchtime, I had reached Bodega Tempus Alba, where I combined lunch with wine tasting. On my way to my new accommodation in Lujan de Cuyo, I decided to stop by the “garage” winery of Carmelo Patti, just for good measure. Their wines are not sold in stores, only in restaurants, and a portion of it is exported to a few countries, including France. During the wine tasting, Carmelo’s daughter gave me a few tips on how to open a bottle with a stubborn cork and how long to aerate different varieties of wine. Today, I visited three wineries and an olive oil producer, and I tried thirteen wines. Despite cycling only 55 km, I arrived at my accommodation for tonight, just like yesterday, around 6 pm.

Day 3 – Lujan de Cuyo and some more
For no apparent reason, I decided to go to Potrerillos Dam, perhaps because it was a cycling trip after all. Considering I had a reservation in the afternoon for lunch at Clos de Chacras winery, 75 kilometers away, I set myself in motion before sunrise. When I started, it was just 2°C, and with a little bit of wind, it felt even worse. Believe it or not, I forgot my lights, so I had to ride in complete darkness at times. It was a rare occasion when passing cars with lights on were welcomed. To add to the inconveniences, the pavement was periodically horrendous. On the way to the dam, I had to steadily climb up. On a few occasions, I dismounted and walked the bike up, not because it was hard to pedal, but because I couldn’t feel my toes. Walking brought blood to my feet. Along the way, there were nice views of the Andes. I reached the lake created by the dam an hour earlier than I calculated. From there, it was all downhill. I reached Clos de Chacras a good 30 minutes ahead of my reservation, thinking I would have plenty of time to eat and then leisurely cycle to the next bodega. But no, the service was so slow that in the end, I asked them to bring the courses faster, and there were six of them. Still, I had to pedal hard, and it wasn’t easy after six glasses of wine, just to make it on time for the wine tasting at Bodega Achaval-Ferrer. I really enjoyed this one: it was one on one, I asked a bunch of questions, and we talked a bit about cycling, Argentina’s economy, and Russian tourists. After another six wines, I felt a little tipsy. Luckily, my B&B was nearby. I was glad the day came to an end, a happy one. Although there were “just” two wineries, the road to them was long and sometimes painful, whether it was due to the cold or the road conditions. Twelve glasses of wine took the edge off.

Day 4 – Lujan de Cuyo/Agrelo
I began today’s wine tasting at Bodega Vistalba in Lujan. It was conveniently located not too far from my overnight stay, and the reservation was for 11:30, so I didn’t have to wake up early or exert too much effort to get there. I enjoyed the visit, although the tour of the bodega wasn’t necessary. The wine tasting, however, was excellent. We were presented with a variety of different wines. After they asked about our preferences, we were offered even more wines, including their top shelf selection. I couldn’t finish the tasting because I had to go to another winery. I rolled down to Ojo de Agua winery in Agrelo for a wine tasting that was disguised as a lunch. I wish the access roads to wineries, especially the popular ones, were paved, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, including the road to Ojo de Agua. Half of the distance was on gravel roads with scattered rocks, making the ride quite unpleasant. Throughout the journey, I kept on thinking, “It better be worth it.” And it was indeed the best experience of this trip so far. The food was delicious, the wine was flowing, and the view was breathtaking. The only thing missing was Julie’s presence to share in the delight. That was supposed to be the last stop but I kind of stumbled upon Bodega Catena Zapata on my way to Ugarteche. I had wanted to reserve a wine tasting there, but it was sold out. Instead, I stopped for a glass of Chardonnay just before they closed the gates. After a few more kilometers of gravel and some fence jumping curtesy of Google, I arrived at my accommodation. Today’s ride was relatively short, but due to the combination of an abundance of wine and bumpy roads, I was completely exhausted. The good thing is that I am now closer to tomorrow’s destination than I was yesterday.

Day 5 – Uco Valley
Today, there were just two stops on my list: Bodega Atamisque and Bodega La Azul in the Uco Valley. The former was for wine tasting, while the latter was for lunch and wine tasting.
When I woke up, the temperature inside the apartment seemed to match the outside temperature, which was +4°C. I started earlier than intended, hoping that pedaling would warm me up. I thought I had plenty of time to get there, but I didn’t factor in the altitude difference; the first seventeen kilometers were all uphill, albeit gentle. Even though I started 45 minutes ahead of the original schedule, I arrived at Bodega Atamisque just a few minutes before the reserved time. However, it turned out to be a disappointment. It started with a guard who, just because he was wearing a uniform, acted like a general and barked commands about where I could put my folded Brompton. Then, despite requesting only a wine tasting when I made the reservation, I was told I had to endure a tour of the winery before getting to the tasting. Furthermore, everything was in Spanish, of which I know very little. Given my tight schedule, even staying for the tasting alone was challenging, let alone for the tour. So, I decided it was their loss and left for Bodega La Azul.
At the bodega, I ordered a five-course meal with accompanying wines. The food was nothing extraordinary, but they made up for it with the quantity of wine—with each course they left a bottle of wine on the table for refills. There were five different wines served, but it’s hard to say how many glasses I had. In fact, one could drink the wines served during the meal up until 5 pm if one wished so. I took my bottle and enjoyed the outdoor seating when my friends showed up. That marked the end of my cycling adventure in Mendoza. They invited me to join them at Gonzalez Riili winery. At first, I was hesitant because it was far from my accommodation, but after a couple more glasses, I agreed to hop in their car. And it was definitely the right decision! It turned into a party at the winery with a DJ and bonfires. The owner happened to be a friend of my friends, ensuring the wine continued to flow freely. The setting was breathtaking, with a view of the sunset over the Andes. It truly was the cherry on top, a wonderful conclusion to my wine tour.

Day 6 – Back to Buenos Aires
I was supposed to start very early because my plane back to BA was leaving around 2 pm, and I was about a four-hour bike ride away from Mendoza. I also had to stop at my initial accommodation to pick up the box for my Brompton. Even though I have a suitcase just for the bike, airlines are becoming more stingy in terms of checked bag weight, allowing only 15 kg in this case. To avoid extra charges, I used a cardboard box.
Anyway, my friend was also going to the airport, but by car, and offered me a lift. As a purist, I initially wanted to ride the last 75 km of the trip on my Brompton. However, remembering the miserable hours I endured a couple of days ago at the same time of day, reason prevailed, and I spent an hour in the warm car instead of four hours out in the cold, pedaling, albeit with a bit of guilt.
When I was planning the trip, I checked a few wine bike tours, not because I wanted to go on an organized tour, but to get an idea for the itinerary. Each time, I was bemused by the distance those tours covered — 15-20 km at most per day, with the rest being shuttle transfers. On the other hand, I was being true to myself, overestimating my capabilities while underestimating the efforts and time it takes to get from one place to another. It seems the learning curve of “slow travel” is too steep for me. Time after time, I fall into the same trap of cramming more experiences into a short trip than I can process. But I prefer an adventure to a walk in the park. Despite the long distances, I was a happy traveler. After a few glasses of wine, the pedaling didn’t seem as tedious as it could have otherwise.
During this trip I learned that there’s more to Mendoza than just Malbec. They produce not only Malbec but also white wines, rosé, sparkling wines, and even fortified wines – catering to every taste.
There are direct flights from Brazil to Mendoza, and the Brazilian real is stronger than the Argentinian peso. Therefore, I noticed an influx of Brazilians in various bodegas I visited. They played the role of loud Americans elsewhere, buying wine by the case. I don’t know how they transported it through airport security.
As I sat in the car on the way to the airport, my liver and I felt relief. As much as I enjoyed my wine bike tour, I was glad the wine consumption was over.
Once again, I was impressed by how well Greengo, my Brompton, handled all the abuse on bumpy roads. He will need some rest and TLC, and my battered bum as well.

Mendoza in numbers:

365 km — distance cycled
15 — wineries visited
Many, perhaps too many — wines tasted per day; I lost track
70% — of Argentine wine produced in Mendoza region
12.5 — million hectoliters of wine was produced by Argentinian wineries in 2021