After the Harvest in Mendoza

One of Mendoza's many public parks Mendoza, Argentina's prime wine producing area, in late autumn is beautiful. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, the harvest is over and the wineries, as always, are happy to provide tours and tastings to visitors. Remember autumn in South America is spring in the northern hemisphere, so if you are looking for a taste of fall before the long, hot summer, head south.

Most people arrive in Mendoza via air. Mendoza's new and modern airport is a 1½ hour flight from Buenos Aires or a 50 minute flight from Santiago, Chile. You can also cross the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza in a private car, hired van or by regularly scheduled, air-conditioned coach. In good weather it takes about seven hours and the views are spectacular.

The best way to begin a visit to Mendoza is with a city tour. The Province of Mendoza is a series of man-made oases, land reclaimed from the surrounding pampas by smart water management. The Huarpe Indians first channeled the plentiful water from melting snow in the Andes into a series of canals in this desert-like area to irrigate their crops -- potatoes and corn.

During the 1700s the Spaniards arrived and expanded the clever network of irrigation canals to allow for commercial production of wine, brandy, fruit, flour and olive oil and trade with Buenos Aires was established.

The irrigation system now consists of dams, reservoirs and canals and a management system that maintains it. Trees have been imported from around the world and Mendoza's shady streets are waiting to be explored. There are more than 40 neighborhood parks in the city and its huge San Martín civic park to the west of town is almost as large as the city itself. Here you'll find the zoological gardens, the rowing and golf clubs, the soccer stadium in which the 1978 World Cup playoffs were held, a rose garden, playgrounds, natural forested areas, historical statues and much more.

There are more than 90 wineries registered with the agricultural department of Mendoza so there's an enotourism vacation to suit everyone's taste - from backpackers visiting the free tours with tastings to full-scale, first-class gastronomy adventures, you'll find it all in this scenic area.

On a recent trip to Mendoza we visited small boutique wineries, vineyards producing well-known export brands and bodegas with their vine's well-established roots deep in the Mendoza soil. Our brief sampling can't begin to cover the possibilities Mendoza holds for travelers seeking to sample Argentine wine. We first visited wineries in Luján de Cuyo, near Mendoza, where the oldest wineries are found, and then proceeded to vineyards in the Uco valley.

Located in a 1890s era Spanish colonial winery building, previously owned by Mendoza's family Otero, Bodega y Cavas de Weinert was founded in 1975 by Don Bernardo C. Weinert, a Brazilian-born entrepreneur of Swiss and German ancestry. Weinert, a wine enthusiast, extensively researched wine producing areas before settling on the Luján de Cuyo property. Once acquired, he installed the most technologically advanced winemaking equipment available at the time. Today you'll see barrels of wine stored in the epoxy-lined concrete tanks used by the original owners to ferment wine. The thick walls provide insulation from hot Mendoza summers. While walking among the huge oak casks, note the small access door at the front of each barrel. Men of a certain physique (flexible with small shoulders) wriggle through those doors each year to steam clean them and then scrape away the year's sediment.

Bodega Septima
Situated in Luján de Cuyo near Mendoza, Bodega Septima produces traditional wines in a modern facility designed to accentuate the cultural heritage and native building materials of the region. Established in 1999 by the Codorníu Group, famed maker of sparkling wines in Spain, Septima has three wine lines: varietals, coupage wines and reserves and storage capacity for more than one million bottles. We climbed stairs to the catwalks that allow access to the huge steel fermentation tanks and then visited the cellars. After a tour of the winery we sampled wines on the second floor terrace overlooking the vineyards and the snow-capped Andes.

Luigi Bosca
In 1901 the Arizu family arrived in Luján de Cuyo from Italy and purchased a flour mill more to harness the power generated by its windmill to irrigate the grape vines they brought from Italy than to process grain. The vines flourished and the winery is a fourth generation family business since. Visitors today will find a one acre demonstration vineyard next to the winery. Inside the winery barrels of wine are stored in the underground tunnels that once carried water to power the mill. Visitors may also tour the colonial building that has housed the winery for decades. There's also art on display in the cellars where guests may view "Wine Via Crucis," artist Hugo Leytes' 14 panels depicting wine making and its relationship to the Stations of the Cross.

LaGarde Winery

A visit to the LaGarde winery in Luján de Cuyo offers a glimpse of winemaking as done by the early Italians who settled in Mendoza in the 1800s. In the winery building, built in 1897 and still used today, you'll see the thick walls and underground concrete tanks used to protect fermenting wine from the heat of Mendoza's summers. The huge tanks are still in use - the day we visited a winemaker was opening the access hatches located on the main building's floor and drawing samples of the wine fermenting beneath us. We also watched as an employee froze the sediment-filled necks of bottles of sparkling wine and removed the residue that had settled over months of aging. He then added a little more wine and corked the bottles. He has been solely responsible for the hand-finishing of the winery's sparkling wine for more than 35 years. The vineyard surrounding the winery was planted by the original owners. Thirty rows of malbec are planted so close together that they still must be tilled by mule and plow because modern equipment would damage the roots. Old olive trees dot the vineyard to attract birds away from the grapes.

The tasting room is in a portion of the original owner's home. Black and white photos trace the vineyards history of the winery and a broader range of wines are offered for tasting than in some of the other bodegas we visited. Ask for a peek into the home's original dining room, which is still used for hosting dignitaries and VIPs.

Uco Valley

Bodega Bombal
In 1933 Domingo Lucas Bombal built Château d'Ancon, a replica of a French chateau he admired, on his property in the tiny farming town of Tupungato. The vast lands of the estancia were used for raising cattle and for crops including grapes, cherries, walnuts and vegetables.

Today visitors may visit the estate's boutique Bombol Winery housed in a barn a few hundred feet from the original chateau. Here guests are invited to sample wines made from the region's signature malbec grape as well as cabernet. Chenin blanc and chardonnay wines labeled under their longer-aged Ancon brand or the Bombol brand, which does not spend as much time on oak.

Winery visits Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Six guest rooms are available in the chateau from October 15 - May 1.

Bodega Salentein
Locally referred to as the "Cathedral of Wines" this modern facility, wholly owned by Dutch company Holland Proprietaries and located in the Valle de Uco, blends the production of fine wines with unique architectural design. Built in the shape of a cross, the cellars housed in the four subterranean wings converge in a circular atrium where, much like patrons in an amphitheater, oak barrels rest on tiers around an open marble floor embedded with a compass rose. With more open space than most bodegas, this winery has a unique atmosphere - almost Disneyesque. Our guide was enthusiastic and spoke English beautifully. The wine tasting was typical but the concept, layout and character of the winery is so unusual it makes one curious about what the winery will be like in five or 10 years.

Where to Stay... There are many places to stay in Mendoza's wine country ranging from budget to first-class. We booked two of the newer properties - one in Lares de Chacras near the Luján de Cuyo wineries and one in Tunuyan in the Uco Valley. Lares de Chacras
Lares de Chacras is a family owned and operated small hotel. Situated within an easy walk of the center of Chacras de Coria, one feels at home upon entering through the huge wooden door. Plexiglass panels in the floor reveal the wine cellar below and warm colors, attractive artwork and walls of natural stone and timber welcome guests. The staff is even more welcoming. We arrived late and hungry. Although not equipped for full restaurant service, they offered to prepare pizza or tartes. We opted for both and a bottle of local wine. The pizza, layers of sauce, mozzarella, ham and fresh tomatoes on a home-made crust, and the tarte - corn the first night, spinach the next - were plenty for us after a day in the crisp autumn air tasting wines in Mendoza's Luján de Cuyo.

Valle de Uco Lodge

For a true wine country experience, stay in a vineyard. Surrounded by rows of grapevines, poplar trees and flowers and with the snow-capped Andes in the distance, the Valle de Uco Lodge is an enotourism treasure. Here you walk through your door and into a vineyard. Wander among rows of vines, each with the traditional rose bush at the end. In Chile and Argentina rose bushes are planted at the end of rows of vines because any nuisance -- aphid, insect or disease - will first attack the sweetest plant in the area. A problem with the roses indicates a larger problem for the vines may be looming.

The lodge's kitchen serves excellent food in a dining room where, on chilly evenings, huge logs burn in the fireplace and, in the morning, eggs are cooked to order. The staff is helpful, there's Internet access in the lobby and the beds are fantastic.


It's hard to find a bad meal in Argentina - even McDonald's hamburgers are made with Argentine beef. We enjoyed many wonderful dining experiences but one in particular stands out.

Cava de Cano

At Cava de Cano in Drumond, Luján de Cuyo, we were welcomed for lunch in the wine cellar of a home that once belonged to the former Governor of Mendoza who boosted the wine industry by creating Mendoza's March harvest Festival.
We began with a glass of Malbec and manager Juan told us the history of the winery. We proceeded to an adjacent area of the cellar where a table was almost fully covered with food - cheese, meats and sausages, marinated vegetables, bread, olives, hard-boiled eggs, roasted potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and more - and this was just for starters. Next we were served piping hot empanadas, one with meat and one with cheese and hard-boiled egg, followed by tender fricasseed rabbit. After lunch we climbed the stairs and had desert in the garden surrounded by trellised vines and pots of rosemary, lavendar and other fresh herbs. This was a truly unique dining experience. (Spanish)