Argentinian Wines

Vines were first planted by two European settlers: Juan Juffré, the founder of the city of Mendoza, and Father Cidrón around 1534. As in Europe, many of the vineyards were planted and maintained by members of the Church. When the Spaniards first arrived in western Argentina, they were surprised to find that the local Huarpe Indians grew crops in the desert climate. Irrigation was already in use by these Indians who had learned of the practice from the Incas. The Incas had developed irrigation over the previous century or two and invaded western Argentina in the late fifteenth century. Irrigation of crops to provide for their people and army was one of the factors in the Incas’ ability to become a dominant force in the Andes. The new settlers, however, improved the irrigation by creating a large series of reservoirs, dykes, and canals to channel the runoff from the snow-pack of the nearby mountains.

Cultivation

In the nineteenth century, the cultivation of vines and wine making grew due to an influx of more European settlers from Spain, Italy, as well as France, and Germany. The number of people who knew how to grow grapes and make wine increased and so did the number of consumers. These settlers also brought European varieties of grapes to the region and these improved the quality of the local wine. Argentina’s vineyards are different than many other in the world since they have not been affected by phylloxera, the disease that devastated most European vineyards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The louse that spreads the disease is present, but doesn’t survive in Argentina’s sandy soil and climate. Like in the U.S., the vine’s damage from the louse is not enough to kill the vine. Some also believe that the flood irrigation contributes to the high sand content in the vineyards’ soil, in which the louse cannot live easily.

Consumption:

Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine, behind the United States, Spain, France, and Italy, in order, with Italy being the largest. Only in the last two or three decades has there been a push to export the wines of Argentina. Fifty years ago, Argentina had one of the highest per capita consumption of wine and exported very little wine. Wine consumption by capita in Argentina is lower than it used to be, yet is still around 4 times that of wine consumption per capita in the United States: over 40 liters versus 10 liters in the U.S.

Climate:

The vineyards in northwestern Argentina have a semi-arid climate year-round (other wine growing areas around the world are typically semi-arid during the growing season), where the rainfall is typically less than 8 inches per year. During the growing season, the temperatures in Mendoza can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, especially in the eastern areas, while the overnight temperatures will hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit because of the altitude, giving a daily variation of around 50 degrees. Most of the rainfall is during the growing season, and because of the elevated temperatures and the elevation, hail is the most feared weather, which can not only damage grapes but vines as well. These areas are also subject to the Zonda wind, which can blow with hurricane force during the budding and flowering period early in the summer. With the semi-arid climate, poor soil, low humidity and wind, there are fewer grape diseases here than other growing areas, with many vineyards not needing the usual pesticides or anti-fungal agents, a situation that facilitates organic viticulture.