Ken Baldwin (Totally Spain) on Mendoza and Bilbao Rioja ahead of his upcoming Prize Trip to Argentina

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It’s only 2 weeks now before I set off from Santander in northern Spain on my journey to Mendoza, Argentina.   This is my wonderful prize for winning the Great Wine Capitals guests bloggers contest.  I received my flight tickets and itinerary a few weeks ago giving me the pleasure of knowing well in advance where I was going and the opportunity to look forward to what awaits me there.  Thank you very much Catherine Leparmentier Dayot, Permanent Secretary, Great Wine Capitals Global Network for all your help with the arrangements.

I feel very fortunate.  It’s not every day that one is rewarded with an all expenses paid trip to Mendoza in Argentina with the good people from the Great Wine Capitals, just for winning their guest bloggers contest.  It’s a serious prize from a serious organisation, it really has to be said.  I’m certainly very grateful and I would encourage all travel writers and wine and travel bloggers to give it a go for next year.   You’ve got nothing to lose.

I haven’t been to Argentina before but being a Spanish speaker and the owner of a Spanish travel and tour company, Totally Spain, I have to say that I am really looking forward to what is sure to be a superb first trip.  And I must compliment Ketek Eventos & Turismo   in Mendoza who have put together an excellent itinerary for the participants from 01 - 07 November 2014.

During this time we’ll tour Mendoza and we’ll also experience the stunning Uco Valley. While there we’ll visit a variety of wineries and dine in a wonderful selection of restaurants in addition to seeing some outstanding scenery in the shadow of the Andes.  We’ll discover first hand the wine tourism scene in Mendoza which I think will be similar to what has been happening here in Spain in the Bilbao Rioja region.  But I don’t know. 

Here, over the past decade or so,   they have really embraced the world of wine tourism and have invested in the facilities and services to attract tourists with an interest in wine at all levels be it beginner, intermediate, expert or just for pure pleasure.  Also people here have gotten much stronger with languages which has been important for catering adequately to international tourists to Bilbao Rioja.

I find it all very interesting because more and more the world of wines is becoming accessible to everybody.  And for anyone touring Spain, it’s a great opportunity to do something different.  And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love spending a few days in the bucolic setting of wine country wherever it be?  The scenery of vineyards spread for miles around, a peaceful mountain backdrop, the welcome of tall swaying cypress trees, a distant historical hilltop town.  At least that’s what it’s like in Rioja.  What Mendoza will be like I’ll just have to wait and see.

As a travel organiser who has arranged many trips in Spain related to gastronomy, wine and the great Spanish outdoors, I think it is going to be great opportunity for me to compare the tourism offering in Mendoza with the tourism offering in Bilbao Rioja.  I’m sure to learn a lot and will hopefully make some new friends along the way.

I see from my itinerary that some (or maybe many?)  wineries in Mendoza have opened their doors to visitors and that the combination of touring a winery and dining there afterwards is already happening, as it is in Rioja.  I think it’s a great development and it’s one that we promote in Rioja at wineries such as Bodegas Baigorri  where they offer the ‘winery tour & dining’ combination.  And not only for groups but also for individuals too.  Years ago, in Bilbao Rioja, this was only generally available to large tour groups but nowadays couples and smaller groups can enjoy this terrific experience.   

I see also that architecture is an important element of the wine tourism offering in Mendoza as this article shows .  Thank you Amanda Barnes , one of the other finalists in this years bloggers contest, for bringing this to my attention.  It is too in Bilbao Rioja where several architecturally exciting modern wineries have appeared in recent years such as Bodegas Ysios in Laguardia by Santiago Calatrava    as well as some amazing original hotels such as the Hotel Viura in Villabuena de Alava    and not forgetting museums such as the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. 

Visitors to Bilbao Rioja often like to compare the architecture and the experience of the new with the old, combining a visit to a super-modern winery such as the aforementioned Ysios with another to an older winery such as the small Bodega El Fabulista in Laguardia.  Bilbao Rioja has numerous centennial wineries which, being so historical, is a great part of the areas appeal.  I wonder how important a part the age and the history of the wineries in Mendoza play from a tourism perspective ? We’ll see.

Cuisine is really important in Bilbao Rioja where they take food and the whole gastronomic scene very seriously.  It’s very difficult to eat poorly in Bilbao or Rioja and from what I have seen on the websites of the restaurants where we’ll dine in Mendoza, I believe we are in for a big treat. I always get excited by that special little restaurant, the un-pretentious place located slightly off the beaten path.  For example restaurants such as Restaurante Hector Oribe   in the tiny Riojan village of Paganos where we have sent clients for many years.  This place always pleases the diner and despite not having a Michelin star, it certainly can hold its own with some of the best.  I wonder will any of the places we dine in Mendoza deliver a similar experience ? 

And what about other activities for tourists in Mendoza ?   What else draws tourists  there ?  Bilbao Rioja, for example, has the Camino de Santiago that runs right through the region and brings thousands of visitors annually.  This and so much more remains to be discovered. Roll on Friday, 31 October.