Mendoza is actually much closer to Santiago than Buenos Aires so, as we hadn't managed to fit it in before, we decided to hop on (yet) another overnight bus & go there for 5 days.
We booked a hostel recommended by Hostel-World but were sadly disappointed when we arrived there. It had no air-con (essential in the Mendoza summer), the fan didn't work nor did the TV, & the shower flooded the bathroom if you used it. Our room had a double bed but also a bunk bed that looked as if it was from the Colditz Story. I even counted the slats in the bed to see if anyone had used them in an escape plot.
We moved the next day to a nice little hotel that had everything, at little extra cost & was nearer the action.
The city itself is lovely, with wide tree lined avenues, pavement cafes, many parks dotted throughout the city - & of course wonderful wine. We spent the next couple of days exploring the city & its parks. Parque General San Martin is a huge forested 420 hectare park (what's a hectare?) on the west of the city, with a lake, scenic paths & is dotted with sporting clubs, a few flash hotels & Mendoza University. The people of Mendoza like to keep fit judging by the number of joggers & cyclists around.
La Rural Bodega
You cannot visit Mendoza without going to a bodega (vineyard). We chose not to take one of the guided tours, where you follow someone with an upheld flag around olive processing plants & jewellery factories as well as vineyards, so we hopped on a local bus to Maipu, the main wine producing area in Mendoza, for our own DIY tour.
We went to one of the oldest Bodegas called "La Rural" which was founded in 1885 by Don Felipe Rutini. It is special because it has a museum of wine making tools, going back to the 18th century. Our guide, a very knowledgeable young lady, explained how they originally picked each grape individually, not in bunches. The grape pickers were migrant Bolivians & Peruvians (as they still are today). The quantities were not great in the early days because the wine was not for general consumption but just for Holy Communion & consumption by the priests (strickly for quality control purposes, you understand).
Grapes were trodden, by hand, in a large cow-hide trough with the grape juice run off through a ready-made hole near the tail. The juice was fermented in earthenware urns before being stored in barrels - glass bottles were far too expensive in those days.
When the Italian immigrants came over in the 1880s they brought with them new wine making techniques which improved the quality & the yield. They introduced scissors so they could cut a bunch at a time & centrifugal drums to separate the grapes from the stalks.
The vines in the Rutini vineyard were replanted in 1973 & should last another 100 years. Most of the grapes on this bodega are still picked by hand by migrant Bolivians & Peruvians.
Mendoza became the largest wine producing region in Argentina but in the last 10 years the Mendoza vineyards have concentrated on improving quality, with some success, in order to compete in the world market. The tour ended with a glass of special "Museum Wine" produced exclusively for trippers like us, it wasn't bad.
Not satisfied with one glass, we found a nice rustic restaurant & sampled a nice bottle of Malbec with our lunch. We did quite a lot of wine tasting in Mendoza - from the supermarket top shelf, the middle shelf, but not from the bottom shelf (I do have standards).
Our bus trip back from Maipu nearly didn't happen - the buses only take coins (not notes) & no-one in Maipu had any change - we had to cadge some coins from the restaurant chef & some kind lady. Apparently there is a shortage of low denomination coins since the bus companies introduced this system.
Our last day in Mendoza was the "Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia" - the festival celebrating the wine harvest. They had dancers in national costume, a big parade through the streets & a concert in the main park. On the Saturday they chose one of the local beauties to be "Reina Nacional de la Vendimia" (National Vendimia Queen) from the 18 contestants representing the Mendoza Barrios. Three of the contestants have already been eliminated by the voters, one works for the Government & therefore cannot to be trusted, one is a professional actress & didn't pass the IQ Test & the third is a pinup from Playboy Magazine (enough said).