We’ve always found ourselves in wine country during our travels. Sure, it’s not whitewater rafting or sky diving, but wine exploration is one of our favorite types of adventure. There’s something amazing about sitting among beautful vineyards while enjoying a nice glass of wine. While Malbec will always play an important role in Patagonian wine, it is the production of Pinot Noir that got us interested in exploring the region. If you ever come across a Pinot Noir from Neuquén or the Río Negro we encourage you to give it a try.
Learning about the new, up and coming wine region of Patagonia Wine Country, we took it upon ourselves to be the pioneers of this region and conquer this very much unexplored route. In addition, it was a great opportunity to break up the 18 hour bus ride from Bariloche to Mendoza.
We made reservations for the new year at <Nando Hotel Apartments> in Cipolletti, and therefore we were determined to make this work! So here is what we did, along with some tips if exploring Patagonia Wine country is a must on your itinerary.
To prepare, I emailed, Tweeted, Facebook messaged almost every single bodega in the area. We had two negatives going against us. First, we don’t own cell phones to call to make reservations. Second, it was the New Year holiday. The results? Not good. I only received one email back from an owner stating that they will be out of the area on holiday. Gee, thanks. It started to make sense why most backpackers head straight to Mendoza.
Travelers who focus on budget travel often suggest, “Hire a taxi and do it yourself.” Here’s why that is just plain bad advice in this particular area:
Unless you are fluent in Spanish, you will not get much out of the tour as the majority of them, especially the boutique wineries, will be not be in English.
Unfortunately, the bodegas are not very good at securing reservations. Considering that our local guide knew these people personally, had a cell phone, and made reservations and STILL had difficulty with someone consistently being present upon our arrival.
During the busy harvest time, from mid-February through March, it will be difficult to secure a tour and tasting at family-run boutique bodegas.
There’s often a great distance between wineries. There are no bike tours in this area. You’ll probably spend a lot on taxi fare by hiring one for the whole day. In this area, you are better off going with a guide that can easily transport you from one bodega to another, taking care of all the logistics, especially when you arrive at a closed gated entrance!
Harry luckily connected with a local guide that helped us make our time here more productive. She specializes in wine tours and also offers a paleontology tour. Her name is María José (Mary Jo) Huc and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Rate – We went on two outings. The first day focused on the Río Negro area and the second day we ventured to the San Patricio del Chañar region The first tour was private and cost 900 pesos ($~106 USD), the second was a group of four and cost 600 pesos (~$70 USD). Considering that private tours in Mendoza run about $170-$200 USD per person, we felt that this was a good value for a whole day tour.
For 60 pesos (~$7 USD) we received an in depth tour of Humberto Canale with a tasting of 3 wines and a plate of cheese to accompany it. The grounds were lovely and the area of tasting was outside and next to the vines.
At Agrestis, the owner came out to greet us and we chatted about his wines and snapped a few photos near the vines, after purchasing a bottle for our New Year’s celebration. There was no cost.
We also had a tour of the Río Negro area and a stop at a local fruit orchard which makes fruit inspired chocolates.
Neuquén/San Patricio Del Chañar – Along with another couple, we ventured to 3 bodegas; Bodega Secreto Patagónico, Familia Schroeder, and NQN. Bodega Secreto Patagónico was a newer, up and coming bodega, while Familia Schroeder and NQN are larger and more established. The only fee was at Familia Schroeder at 60 pesos, but after the tasting we were allowed to use that credit to take home a bottle of their SAURUS Malbec that was the same price. We ate lunch at NQN’s Malma Resto Bar. We were disappointed that they did not receive our guide’s reservation email. (Not surprised.) Although, the food was great, service was greatly lacking as we waited at a dirty table for over 30 minutes to even place an order. It was slow even for Argentine standards. The Argentine couple we were touring with were even getting frustrated!
The larger wineries are more established and commercial. Even though they have some perks, (e.g., English tours, restaurants with vineyard views on site, promotions, etc.), there are so many tourists that you start feeling like you’re just a number, or a herd of cattle that they are quickly shuffling through. Don’t be afraid to request more outings to the smaller, boutique bodegas to get a more personal, unique experience. Our favorite bodega was at Secreto Patagónico, in which the tour host was not to be found despite our reservation. So Josè, the Agricultural Technician, graciously led our tour. We ended up with a lovely, intimate tasting and we left with the leftover wine…all for no cost!
Although much of this area is very “flighty” (pun intended!), and at times unorganized, overall we enjoyed exploring Patagonia wine region. It feels fresh, unvisited, and is a more intimate wine experience than touring with the masses in the more costly Mendoza.
Wine has always played a big role in our travels both near and far. Our favorite wine region? Hands down…South Africa!