Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mr. Hugo's Jetpack Wine Tours

A few weeks ago while researching the city of Mendoza, I was elated to find that there were numerous bicycle wine tours of the infamous Mendozan Wineries. I love bicycles, I love wine. Surely a winning combination. The challenge then was to find a reputable, reviewed and recommended tour operator as there were numerous options. Luckily through the magic of Facebook, we learned that our leading inspiration for this trip (who also happened to be our wedding photographer), had done such a tour himself. Upon his advice, we went with Mr. Hugo.

I had emailed them in advance to ask the basic stuff; hours, dates, costs, etc. Their responses were always in Spanish despite both their website and my inquiries being in English. Odd, but irrelevant. We were set for Saturday, could arrive at our leisure, and the bus was only 40¢. We had yet to ride a collectivo in Argentina, and the ones here were way more manageable to navigate than back in Buenos Aires. It was a far cry from a chicken bus, though live poultry always makes South American bus stories better somehow. Instead, we were joined by three fellow travelers from Amsterdam. They too were heading to the wine highway but without any specific plans. After a brief explanation of the concept of wines AND bicycles, they were sold on the idea. How could anyone from Amsterdam not be excited for bicycles? Have you ever been there? They have more bicycles than pigeons, and Dam Square is ground zero for flying rats.

As soon as we got off the bus we were bombarded by touts on bikes eager to sell us their tours. This was a first for us as every single tout we have seen prior on this trip was a pedestrian in nature. Hopefully this trend of evolution stops at bicycles because I would hate to see touts with more advanced technology. Jet packs are awesome, but in the wrong hands could be menacing. It was easy to waive them off with a simple "no gracias" (because they didn't have jet packs) and we headed straight to Mr. Hugo's.

It was just after noon and the party switch was already on. Casual, nondescript, non offensive club music was playing loudly enough to create atmosphere, but not too loud to drown out conversation. The home made wine was flowing, riders were being briefed, biked up and sent on there way. Map in hand, destinations in mind, no helmets and no waivers. That's just how they roll in Mendoza (and the rest of the world for that matter). Our party of five grew to seven when joined by the Australian couple we had met at our hotel and we were soon on our way as well.

The best bicycle wine advice we received was to start at the end and work your way back. The logic being you will be closer to your final destination at the end of your trip. In other words, the more wine you drink, the less bicycling you have to do. The flip side however, is you start your day with a 12km bike ride. After the first few kilometers we all decided to skip wineries 12 through 9 and start at number eight. This was the second good decision we made in a row, go team!

The winery was great, laid back, antique wine making thingies hung on the wall and a row of benches in front of the counter.  We sampled the young, old, aged and desert wines. The young wine was preferred by most, but we all loved the desert wine. There was a nice walnut after taste and no after burn. Sadly, we couldn't sample their limited, but were able to try their white when we sat down for wine and cheese, completely forgetting about the actual tour of the winery itself in the process. This would turn out to be the only winery we would make all day. It would be all down hill from here.

The next two wineries we attempted were both closed. We had no warning from the organizers that this is was even a possibility. Especially as they were the two most recommended. Instead, we settled for the beer garden, a refreshing change of pace after all of the wine we've been drinking. Typically when you envision a beer garden, giant steins of german beer, long wooden tables, pretzels, schnitzels, and liederhosen all come to mind. However, when the locals decided to create this beer garden they must have been oblivious to the concept of false advertising. Rather than walking into a Bavarian wunderland, we walked into a garden. Like an actual garden. With vegetables. This may have explained why the empaƱadas were so delicious and why the beers were not.

From there it was an easy jaunt back to Mr. Hugo's. The second best decision we made all day had paid off just in time for us to make our one bad one. Part of Mr. Hugo's allure is the endless, free flowing home made wine and late hours. The wineries close at 6pm and Mr. Hugo stays open till 9pm. What transpired in those three hours was sort of a verbal circus. Though our bodies were well behaved and there was no table dancing (regrettably), mouths were forming words that typically don't sound as intelligent during the inevitable morning after recollection.  Interestingly enough, was that I had not participated in, nor over heard, any conversations leading to sex death or taxes. Instead, I was witness to such gems as "you don't look Australian", "we only budgeted $10,000 for our week in NYC", "how can you not like Madonna if you're gay", and  "New Yorker's aren't in a hurry, we're just efficient walkers" (that last one was Claire). 

As fate would have it, we were spared any further awkwardness of conversations from the wine itself. I had detected a slight slur in my speech and hid my cup to prevent any further refills. It was time to go home. We split a cab back with the Australian couple from our hotel and immediately passed out upon our return. The morning after was spent piecing together the night before, eating breakfast, and regretting nothing (except that Mr Hugo doesn't offer jetpack wine tours).

- Bill

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