Argentine Wine…the National Drink

Vino Argentino…Bebida Nacional
(Argentine Wine…the National Drink)

It wasn’t that long ago that when anybody mentioned wine it was naturally assumed that you were talking about wine from France.  Then wines from California and even Texas began to appear on the shelves.  In more recent years wines from Argentina have become very commonplace until today Argentine wines are among the most common and highly regarded wines consumed by Americans and others worldwide.

The evolution of the Argentine wine industry is an interesting story and essential part of the fascinating country of Argentina and it’s no wonder that in 2010 the Argentine government declared wine the national drink.

Wine is, of course, primarily made from grapes.  Grapes are propagated by means of ‘cuttings’ from vines.  If that vine is known to produce grapes that make good wine, then its cuttings become highly regarded and might wind up anywhere in the world.  The first wine grape cuttings were brought to Argentina in 1557.

Mendoza Vineyard

Vineyard in Mendoza with the Andes Mountains in the distance

In the early days of the industry, the vast majority of Argentine wine was produced domestically and quantity was more important than quality.  In 1970 average Argentine wine consumption was 24 gallons per capita (compared to a per capita consumption of less than a gallon in the US).

Up until 1990 Argentina produced more wine than another other country outside Europe but very little of it was sufficient quality to be considered exportable.  In the 1990’s, due to political initiatives to increase exports, local growers began to focus more on quality and that’s part of the reason why Argentina is today the top exporter of wine in South America.

The health of the Argentine wine industry has been up and down along with the roller-coaster ride of the Argentine economy in general but the general direction has been one of improvements in quality and quantity and in fact wine-oriented tourism (AKA: “enotourism”) has become a significant sector of the booming Argentine tourism industry.

Wine Barrels Mendoza

Massive Wine barrels

The provinces of Argentina which have the most highly developed wine industry are Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja with Salta, Catmarca, Rio Negro and even southern Buenos Aires beginning to become well known too.  The Mendoza region however still produces most of the countries’ wine exports and also 60% of the wine produced totally in the country.

This might be part of the reason why Mendoza is one of the most popular tourist regions in the country and is also known as a very nice place to live in general.

If you are familiar at all with Argentine geography you’ll know that it is a geographically very diverse area and many areas of the country, because of the dry humidity and high elevations are extremely hospitable to wine grapes and wine growing but have almost no problem with pests that plague wine grapes in other areas of the world.

It is for this reason that many Argentine wines have a reputation for being very ‘natural’ and pesticide free.  Pesticides just aren’t needed.

Another interesting characteristic of the Argentine wine industry is related to the fact that the country benefits from very strong immigration ties back to France, Italy and Spain where fine wine has long been a tradition.

Mendoza Vineyards 2

Vineyard in Mendoza

Quite a few immigrants brought not only high pedigree vineyard cuttings but also their priceless experience and talent to Argentina in the early days of the wine industry.  Partly due to these immigrants, you’ll find fine Malbec wine from France, Bonarda from Italy and many others.The professional trade of viticulture (the science of wine production) was introduced to Argentina during the Spanish colonization and later again by Christian missionaries.  A Catholic priest, Father Juan Cedron, established the first Argentine grape vineyard in 1556.  Grapes from this vineyard are considered the ancestors and backbone of the wine industry in Argentina.The first commercial wine-grape vineyard was established by Jesuits in 1557 and it is also during this time that the Argentines began to further enable the growth of the Argentine wine industry by building an irrigation system.Due to the dryness of the climate, it would have been impossible to have much of a wine industry except for the fact that the Argentines learned to build irrigation canals to channel water from the snows and glaciers in the mountainous areas of the Andes in the Western part of the country to the vineyards.

Dry Valley of Mendoza

Couple trekking in Mendoza

This irrigation system also benefited agriculture in general and is one of the reasons why agricultural produce is one of the major exports of Argentina today.

The growth of the Argentine wine industry has been very much influenced by world and local politics.  In 1920 the Argentine wine industry was doing very well and Argentina was the eight richest country in the world.  Then came the world-wide economic calamity of the US Great Depression and Argentine wine exports fell sharply.

Since that time the industry has had several ups and downs.  Some governments encouraged it….others did not.

The primary geographical influencing feature on the Argentine wine industry is the Andes Mountains.  As one can easily understand, these mountains have a lot to do with weather patterns in the country as well as the hydrography of Argentina.  Overall the Argentines have coped very well with what they have to work with and the wine industry of Argentina has prospered both domestically and internationally.

Mendoza Andes

Chile, Argentina’s neighbor across the Andes to the West, also has a wine producing industry although it’s not as large as Argentina’s.  If you ever have a chance to visit Argentina you should be sure and see one or more of Argentina’s wine producing areas and wineries and book a wine tour in Mendoza.  You’ll be glad you did.

Watch the following interesting video about wine making in Argentina by one of the many wine makers in Mendoza;

Argentina Wines

Piattelli Vineyards makes the finest estate wine especially for North American palates. Our Argentina wines are crafted with wisdom, precision, and love in Mendoza and Salta, Argentina with the benefits of arid-clean air, crystal-clear water, and nut…

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