ARGENTINA: A Country of WINE
Every place in the world that produces wine has some unique characteristics that impact the aromas and flavors of their wine. Argentina’s most visual awe-inspiring feature is the backdrop of the Andes Mountains to the West. The Andes give most of the vineyards cool night winds and sun filled days; most importantly the Andes give the high altitude vineyards the irrigation from the snow melt in the summer.
Since the 1550’s there have been vineyards in Argentina and since the late 16th century the Mendoza area has been recognized as a premier wine grape growing region. “But it wasn’t until 1880 that a French botanist planted the first French grape varieties in the area. Italian and Spanish premium varieties were similarly introduced by immigrant winemakers from those countries,” according the Argentina Wine Guide.
Like California’s San Joaquin Valley and the area around Sacramento, Mendoza would not now be world renown as a wine region without plentiful water; both areas are naturally arid. In addition, Mendoza is at a relatively high elevation relative to traditional vineyards; Mendoza ranges from 2,600 to 5,000 feet above sea level. The Andes provide the irrigation water during the hot summer months and cool breezes at night.
But Argentina is not new to the wine scene, New World by definition, but old world by way of wines. Argentina was originally colonized by the Spaniards but Europeans have followed in the past few hundred years and as a result varietals that have adapted to the Argentina climate variables have a great deal of European influences. Malbec is the grape that has made Argentina famous, but there are others that are important. In addition to Malbec there are other successful reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Chardonnay also enjoys great acceptance and growth in the white category.
The 6 provinces/regions account for Argentina’s wine industry and this inordinate growth in traditional European varietals.
The most important wine regions of the country are the provinces/regions of: Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Salta, Catamarca, Rio Negro and the newest being Southern Buenos Aires. The Mendoza province produces more than 70% of the Argentine wine.
Growing Provinces Acres in Vines
San Juan– 116,633
La Rioja– 20,262
Río Negro– 7,166
Other provinces (total)– 3,212
Over the past couple of decades I have noticed more Argentinean wine on the shelves. It appears that Argentina wine industry has been expanding and the subsequent surplus in wine is going into the export market. Contrary to early history, most Argentinean wine was not high quality and most was consumed in that market. Looking at the U.S. wine industry, a parallel set of circumstances exist whereby excess production of quality wines go to the export market—European Union’s 28 member market to be specific. That export market accounts for $622 million in sales and 40% of U.S. wine exports in 2015, according to the Wine Institute. The total wine export market for the U.S. was $1.61 billion.
Do not think Argentina is not serious about the importance of wine on the World stage and the economic impact it has on a relatively small country; approximately 25% the size of the U.S. Some of the newer wineries are architectural marvels and produce award winning wines that rival the finest in the World. The production technologies in newer Argentinean wineries are second to none. The industry is also being populated by major wine producers and winemakers famous in the U.S. and Europe.
Today, some well-known wine consultants have put their stakes in the ground in Mendoza; such as Michel Rolland from France and Paul Hobbs from Napa and Sonoma, California. Until his death in 2011 Ward Lay, his father was the founder of Frito-Lay, was the owner of a new start-up winery that produces award winning wines. The name of that winery is Andeluna.
Just like in the U.S. there are small family operated wineries and large conglomerates, but the majority realize that the focus must be on quality. With 1,300 wineries in Argentina, that compares to 6,225 in the U.S. With a small population, smaller land mass, and impressive production numbers it is impressive what Argentina’s wine industry has accomplished. It also explains why we will see more Argentinean wine.