The Uco Valley is a large wine region about an hour south of the city of Mendoza and is well known for its Malbec wine. It has seen unprecedented growth in the past couple of decades but despite that, is still very rural and spread out.
However, don’t expect to see a lot of rustic huts and wooden lean-to’s. The money flowing into the Uco Valley has spawned a wondrous selection of imposing, glass, stone, and concrete buildings that reflect the colors and angularities of the natural landscape surrounding them.
How much time do you need in the Uco Valley?
When we were planning our trip to Mendoza, I had a hard time deciding what to do about the Uco Valley. Should we take a day tour from Mendoza just to get a sample of a few wineries out there? Or should we stay for a couple of days and actually get a feel for the land? The former felt too much like checking a box off so we took the plunge and booked a couple of days at a cute guest house in the midst of a vineyard.
As it turns out, two nights in the Uco Valley wasn’t nearly enough. There are too many wineries to visit, too many multi-course lunches to linger over, too many lazy afternoons napping and playing fetch with the guest house dogs to simply cram into a couple of days.
In the Uco Valley your hustle and bustle is slowly yet inexorably crushed by every sip of wine, every breath of crisp air, every ray of sunshine beaming down from the snow capped tips of the Andes mountains.
Transportation in the Uco Valley
Forget about staying overnight here if you don’t have a car. Places are too far away to bike between (and good luck finding a bike rental place) and WAY too far to walk between. I think there is one taxi that works the entire area and he’s definitely not driving around just waiting to be hailed. No one has a side gig with Uber here either – everyone’s busy working at the wineries!
You can however, hire someone to take you around if you want a designated driver. Most hotels will have someone on staff or someone they can recommend.
There is one section, near The Vines of Mendoza Resort and Spa that is being developed as a denser, more walkable area, connecting several wineries and some restaurants that are already situated near each other. We heard this from a few people when we were there in November 2019 but from what we saw, the dream seems a long way from being realized.
Visiting wineries in the Uco Valley shouldn’t be rushed. You can easily spend two to three hours at a single one. They’ll give you a tour, they’ll talk you through a tasting, and maybe you’ll eat lunch. (Add even more time for this.) Often times there is something else of interest on the property too, for instance, historic architecture or an art gallery as at Salentein.
What’s more, wineries in the Uco Valley are by reservation only and usually at specific times. So there’s not much opportunity to just squeeze in one more at the end of the day or rush through one just so you can pop over to another.
Our schedules were pretty regimented. We went to three wineries a day: one in the mid morning, one where we stayed and had lunch, and one in the afternoon.
It actually took a lot of research and emailing and phone calls to get things to come together. If extensive planning and legwork isn’t your thing, you may want to jump on a guided tour. There are plenty that you can do, although most start and end in Mendoza so wouldn’t work if you were already staying in the Uco Valley. If you use a private driver they can usually help with reservations.
For what it’s worth, my Spanish is very limited but most people speak some English and if you couple that with google translate and a lot of smiling, it’s definitely possible to communicate.
Where to stay
There are plenty of places to stay in the Uco Valley but you won’t find a Hilton or any other chain hotels here.
If you’re American, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Places that I’d normally consider beyond our budget were all of a sudden, quite appealing. 🙂 However, there are still luxury accommodations that will bust even the most western of wallets. (The Vines of Mendoza for one.)
In my opinion, the best place to stay is at a guest house at a winery. We stayed at Finca La Azul and it was a dream come true. When we got there Brian said: “What if our plane actually crashed and we’re in heaven right now?” I’ll say no more because this place deserves its own post.
You like it? You buy it.
If you like a wine, buy it! Ship it or bring it back in your luggage. I visited this region under the false and proud American idea that I can ‘get it in the states!’ But that just wasn’t true. Yes, you can get some Uco Valley wines in the states but not all wines are distributed everywhere and some of them just aren’t exported at all.
For instance, we loved the wine at the organic winery SuperUco but they are priced at a point high enough that it’s not worth it to distribute in the US. There, the name has no caché so they could be on the shelf next to a more well known Malbec of similar price, and which one is the American consumer apt to pick up? Naturally, the brand they recognize.
Don’t count on food
If it’s the only thing you remember, please, for the love of all that is good in this world – bring a granola bar! The wineries here are serious about WINE. They’re not so serious about snacks. Yes, you can have a helluva lunch at a winery but heaven forbid you need something to tide you over while you guzzle down an eight glass wine tasting mid-morning. (Oh, that’s what that bucket is for?) You may get a few water crackers but there is no guarantee that a winery will have anything to eat either for free or to purchase. I highly recommend carrying an emergency snack, even if it is the nutri-grain bar that’s been smashed at the bottom of your purse since freshman year.
Fun Uco Valley tidbit
The Uco Valley is at the foot of the Andes mountains where you think they’d be able to get all the water they want from snow run off. Not so!! This is the desert and water is more precious than gold. (Almost more precious than wine, but not quite.)
The government tightly regulates water licenses and which plots of land get one. There are quite a few fallow fields in the area because they don’t have water rights. Some of the wineries are very well off because in the beginning, they nabbed a lot of rights so they have good access to water when they want it.
There is a waiting list for water licenses and apparently they’re very hard to come by. It kind of reminded me of how taxi medallions in NYC used to work, except I’m pretty sure the water license is tied to a specific piece of land and can’t be bought or sold on its own.
We learned this from a winemaker during a conversation on a tour. I’m not sure how accurate it is (either her storytelling or my memory, or both) and I wasn’t able to find much on the internet about it. So maybe don’t cite me as a source in your research paper about the plight of dry vineyards in the Uco Valley.
I’ll share more details in later posts about the wineries we visited, as well as the guest house we stayed in. For now, I hope this info gives you the tiniest arm twist into adding the Uco Valley to your list of must-do destinations.