How to Get Lost in Argentina

Gauchos at Mendoza's Vendimia grape harvest festival
Gauchos at Mendoza's Vendimia grape harvest festival / Photo courtesy Jeffrey Tanenhaus, flickr

My husband and I were visiting Mendoza for a milestone birthday, and the icing on the cake was Vendimia, the city’s annual celebration of the grape harvest. Plaza fountains flowed red, and it seemed a parade was around every corner. Perhaps a little chaos in the air, too.

Upon the recommendation of a friend we decided to visit Cepas Elegidas, a winery in nearby Maipú. She knew the vintner, Brennan Firth, and helped arrange a tour for us.

According to our guidebook, Maipú was a “feasible” cab ride from our homestay in downtown Mendoza. En route, we realized “feasible,” or any other point of reference, is rendered useless in the backseat of a speeding taxi in rural Argentina, with no hope for a Wi-Fi connection or a cell phone enabled for international calls. After circling the few scattered bodegas (wineries) twice and querying a handful of locals, it was clear we were lost.

The meter ticking away, our driver sweating and frustrated, we got desperate and motioned for him to stop at an olive farm we had passed a few times. He dropped us off, and as he peeled out of the gravel drive, we discovered the venue had just closed for siesta.

Getting lost in Argentina
Collage by Monica Simon

A farm hand appeared and offered to rouse the proprietor from her nap to help us. Hesitant to disrupt this midday ritual, we gratefully accepted, and were soon approached by Florencia Giol, our accidental host, who ushered us out of the sun into the cool of the farm store to troubleshoot our problem.

Educating us about the family olive oil business while conducting a series of phone calls, Florencia not only discovered the source of our dilemma—woefully incomplete directions—but summoned the wine man himself to our rescue.

Though we were embarrassed, we were touched to have received help and hospitality from a stranger. With a bag of olive products we purchased in thanks, we departed with Brennan.

When a Satiric Wine Writer Gets Taken Seriously

At the winery, it was a tasting to remember: Late-season hail pelted the warehouse as we bellied up to a table Brennan had prepared with every bottling he had on hand.

Next, we tasted the barrels. Except one—an experiment gone awry. “Trust me,” he said. “You don’t want to try that.”

We fell into an unhurried rhythm. Sure, there was a cost—a long cab ride to nowhere, and a check of our expectations at the door—but as with the seasons, things happen in reverse in South America. And so, naturally, this particular tasting came complete with a ride back to town, courtesy of Brennan.

He wouldn’t let us take him to dinner and instead insisted we have beers with him at his favorite Mendoza hangout. He stepped in and grabbed the beers while we pulled up a sidewalk table. By the time he emerged, all eyes were on us: A soccer match was on and we were unknowingly blocking the TV.

With the game as backdrop, we scuttled back to our curbside table, slugged our beers, laughed and chatted. That morning, I wouldn’t have thought beer and soccer would end this day’s adventure, but now I knew it was the only way.

Gwendolyn Elliott is the senior digital editor of Seattle magazine.

Published on April 20, 2017
Topics: Wine Travel