Worth a Trip: Ruta del Vino de San Juan

San Juan’s winery tourism industry isn’t quite as developed as that of Mendoza, but in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. There are no crowds for a start, and tours are occasionally conducted by the winemakers themselves. A few wineries have gotten together to promote the Ruta del Vino de San Juan (the San Juan Wine Route; www.rutadelvinosanjuan.com.ar). The best way to do it, if you want to hit them all in one day, is to hire a car. Starting from downtown San Juan, it’s about a 40km roundtrip. It is feasible to do it by public transportation and taxi too.

The first stop on the route should be Las Marianas. One of the prettiest wineries in the region, this one was built in 1922, abandoned in 1950 and reinstated in 1999. The main building is gorgeous, with thick adobe walls and a few examples of the original winemaking equipment lying around. The mountain views out over the vineyard are superb. If you’re coming by bus, catch the 16 (40 minutes) near the corner of Santa Fe and Mendoza in San Juan. Get off at the corner of Calle Aberastain and Calle Nuevo, where you’ll see a signpost to the winery (an 800m walk).

Making your way back to Calle Aberastain, turn right and follow the road south for 500m to Viñas de Segisa. This stately old winery has more of a museum feel than others. The tour of the underground cellar complex is excellent and tastings are generous.

If you’re not up for a walk, now’s the time to call a remise (shared taxi). If you are, make your way back north to Calle 14, turn right and continue for 5km until you hit RN 40. Turning left, after about 1km you’ll come to Fabril Alto Verde, a big, state-of-the-art winery that sells 90% of its wine for export; tours are in English or Spanish and come accompanied by a rather dreary promotional video. The award-winning organic brands Buenas Hondas and Touchstone are produced here.

Next, catch a 24 bus heading north on RN 40 up to Calle 11. Turning right down Calle 11 for 300m brings you to Champañera Miguel Mas. This small winery makes some of the country’s only organic sparkling wine, as well as other varieties. The whole process – apart from inserting the cork in bottles – is done by hand. Tours (in Spanish only) take you through every step of the process.

Make your way back out to RN 40, and flag down a 24 bus, which will take you back to the bus terminal in San Juan.

Worth a Trip: The Shrine of Difunta Correa

Legend has it that during the civil wars of the 1840s Deolinda Correa followed the movements of her sickly conscript husband’s battalion on foot through the deserts of San Juan, carrying food, water and their baby son in her arms. When her meager supplies ran out, thirst, hunger and exhaustion killed her. But when passing muleteers found them, the infant was still nursing at the dead woman’s breast.

Commemorating this apparent miracle, her shrine at Vallecito is widely believed to be the site of her death. Difunta literally means ‘defunct,’ and Correa is her surname. Technically she is not a saint but rather a ‘soul,’ a dead person who performs miracles and intercedes for people; the child’s survival was the first of a series of miracles attributed to her.

Since the 1940s her shrine, originally a simple hilltop cross, has grown into a small village with its own gas station, school, post office, police station and church. Devotees leave gifts at 17 chapels or exhibit rooms in exchange for supernatural favors. In addition, there are two hotels, several restaurants, a commercial gallery with souvenir shops, and offices for the nonprofit organization that administers the site.

Interestingly, truckers are especially devoted. From La Quiaca, on the Bolivian border, to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, you will see roadside shrines with images of the Difunta Correa and the unmistakable bottles of water left to quench her thirst. At some sites there appear to be enough parts lying around to build a car from scratch!

Despite lack of government support and the Catholic Church’s open antagonism, the shrine of Difunta Correa has grown, as belief in her miraculous powers has become more widespread. People visit the shrine year-round, but at Easter, May 1 and Christmas, up to 200,000 pilgrims descend on Vallecito. Weekends are busier and more interesting than weekdays. There are regular departures to Vallecito from San Juan and Mendoza.