Mendoza Part 2: Red Wine and Produce-Chucking Beauty Queens

In our last post we talked about three different festivals in Mendoza, and we didn’t even get to the main event! Our major reason for visiting Mendoza was the wine harvest festival, known as the Vendimia.

After the other festivals, instead of the city quieting down and going back to business, the parties and merriment increased. For the next two days there were huge parades in the streets. The parades featured floats from each district accompanied by gauchos (Argentine cowboys) in their formal attire on horseback. On each float was a beauty queen and her assistants.

A colorful float from one of Mendoza’s districts.

I should take a step back and talk about the beauty queens because they’re a big part of Vendimia. Each fall, every district nominates a queen to represent them at this time. These young women are present at all sorts of events and their pictures are posted all over the city on billboards and signs everywhere. During the main event of the festival one of them is crowned the queen of the year’s Vendimia.

During the parades the queens ride on their district’s float and wave to the crowds and try to gain their support. And they throw produce to their excited fans. That’s right, we’re talking about apples, grapes, peppers, etc. I guess this is to symbolize the harvest.

Gauchos accompany the floats through the streets.

At first this was pretty exciting for us. I caught a bunch of grapes and Jenny caught a quince, which is a large pear-like fruit that they call membrillo here. It was very hard and bitter, and quite painful to catch!

Jenny with her catch from the parade: a quince!

But quinces were the least of our concerns at these parades. Sometimes the queens would throw cantaloupes, small watermelons, and even boxes of wine! If you think this sounds dangerous, well you might be right. According to our guidebook one year someone was concussed by a flying lemon!

The people here were ready for the parade. Kids brought buckets mounted on sticks in the hopes that the queens would slam dunk a cantaloupe.

The marquee event of the Vendimia is a huge spectacle that takes place in the amphitheater. Here, for three nights they have tango performances, rock concerts, and most importantly the crowning of the Queen of the Vendimia. Ultimately we decided not to attend this event because tickets were almost completely sold out and the only tickets we could find were way in the back. We heard that we’d get a better view if we watched it on TV anyway. So we grabbed a bottle of wine and that’s exactly what we did. Maybe we’ll buy tickets for the main event next time!

We also decided to spend some time outside the city to take in the countryside and check out the vineyards that produce Mendoza’s famous wine. We rode bikes between the vineyards in Maipu where we took tours and tried different wines. We also stopped at an olive farm to sample their olive oils.

It’s harvest season here so the vines were bursting with grapes.

And we went on a horseback ride through the vineyards, accompanied by an asado (another cookout) of steak, ribs, chorizo, blood sausage, salads, and malbec (of course). And another two-hour dinner conversation, all in Spanish.

The vines were so loaded with grapes that you could reach out and grab a bunch. Here Jenny demonstrates the correct way to eat grapes while riding a horse: you hold them in one hand and then stuff them in your mouth!
On a horseback ride through the vineyards. You can see olive trees in this picture which are frequently planted alongside grape vines because the plants are beneficial to each other and are harvested at different times.

Overall Mendoza is an amazing place and even with eleven days in the city we didn’t have time to do everything we wanted. There are more vineyards we didn’t visit and other side trips we didn’t do. And Mendoza is home to Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas. So we still have plenty to do on our next trip here!

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