9 Jul 2012

Bike and Wine Dreams

There are few expectations as high-set and idyllic as the bike and wine tour. Travelers imagine bucolic scenery, warm afternoon sunlight, crumbly dirt roads amidst vineyards, quaint little wineries abound, and that warm fuzzy feeling of biking about aimlessly with a hot-cheeked wine buzz.

Having worked in a winery in one of Mendoza's wine regions, I witnessed many a disillusioned traveler. Bikers would arrive confused as to why they were forced along busy and intimidating roads and why they were in the suburbs instead of the countryside. In Maipu (another one of Mendoza's wine regions) it's even worse. Riders are forced along heavily transited highways and through a sketchy neighborhood or two (bikers have been robbed before and one actually got an arm ripped off by a passing truck).

Like countless travelers before me, the glowing ideal of a bike and wine tour evades my experiences today in Tarija, Bolivia. Bike and wine tour is really a misnomer, maybe it should have been called long distance bike ride to one winery, or something along those lines. Brother and I begin with a three hour detour in the suburbs of Tarija trying to repair a flat tire. After that we bike along a main highway for 25 km to arrive in the little town of Confluencia. The first of the two wineries we were supposed to visit is closed. ("Sometimes they open, sometimes they don't" the bike rental lady later told us). Then we made our way to the second, which thankfully made the trip worthwhile for the atmosphere if not for the wines themselves.

Bodega Casa Vieja is a homey thatch brick winery, filled with tarijeƱas who come to slurp up thin wine from glass pitchers. The wine itself is fermented in these gigantic plastic tubs and waiters fill pitchers from the spigot at the bottom every time somebody orders. A one-toothed cholita (country lady) squats under an adobe archway making sizzling butter pancakes and roasting a slab of goat meat over coals. Big groups of friends pass around jugs of wine and soda. In the tasting we're asked if we want bitter, semi-sweet, or sweet wine to try. Brother and I select a jug of murky semi-sweet white before getting back on the road.

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