Let's take a closer look at Argentina's history through its wine, because the arrival of vineyards led to the establishment of Argentina as a country.
A lil' history.
Argentina history in winemaking dates back to the 1600s, but it really wasn't until the 1990s that this country became known for its wines. Let's fill in the gaps of the story, and learn how Argentina became one of the world's top wine producers.
It's useful to tie Argentina's history to its wines because it shows how major events either helped or hindered the spread of Argentinian wine to the world. What's remarkable is how the country transformed itself in less than 30 years to become a top producer.
Andes Mountains created high plains for vineyards
You'll find the majority of Argentina's vineyards lie close to the Andes because of how the mountain influence affects agriculture. The myriad of vineyard soils in Argentina were created through millions of years of erosion by glaciers, rain, and wind.
Early American settlements in Patagonia
Radiocarbon dating in 1995 confirms the settlement at Piedra Museo in Patagonia is at least 13,000 years old. This makes it one of the earliest human settlements in the Americas.
Ancient agriculture in Calchaquí Valley by the Incas and their predecessors.
A dense network of canals at an archeological site in Las Pailas (in Salta) show sophisticated techniques used to capture rain and snow melt from the Andes to farm crops. Today, much of Argentina's wine regions rely on similar systems for irrigation.
The first vineyards at Spanish colonial missions.
The first vineyards were planted by Spanish colonists in Argentina. Priests planted vineyards near their monasteries (including Franciscan, Benedictine, and Jesuit Missions) to make communion wine. A grape called Criolla Grande was preferred for its high productivity. There are stories of white wine production at a Jesuit mission in Jesus Maria, Cordoba in 1618.
Argentina becomes a nation.
July 9th marks Argentina's declaration of independence. After a military defeat of the Spanish Empire in 1824, the nation was formed now called the Argentine Republic.
Malbec arrives into Mendoza, Argentina
Before Domingo Faustino Sarmiento became president he hired Michel Pouget, a French Agronomist, to design a vine nursery in Mendoza to improve wine farming. The nursery, called Quinta Agronómica de Mendoza, was approved on April 17th, 1853. Pouget imported the first French varieties including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Today, April 17th is 'World Malbec Day' in honor of this story.
First Commercial Wineries in Argentina
Open immigration policies into Argentina encourage mass immigration from European countries. Large numbers of Italian and Spanish families move next to the Andes for its prime agricultural lands. Several families establish wineries in Mendoza and surrounding areas. Here are a few examples:
Graffigna - A Spanish immigrant named Santiago Graffigna started a wine company in 1870. Today this winery hosts a fascinating museum of Argentine wine artifacts. Goyenechea Bodega y Viñedos - Founded in 1868 and still run by the 4th and 5th generation family in San Rafael-Mendoza. There are many old vines here. Colomé 1831 - Originally established in 1831 in the remote Calchaquí Valley in Salta and now owned by Donald Hess (of Napa fame). The original adobe structure still stands alongside a fine art museum on the winery premises.
Phylloxera louse devastates the world, but not Argentina
While the vine-root eating louse devastates 90% of vineyards in some places, Argentina remains surprisingly unaffected. Phylloxera was first recorded in Argentina in 1878 but doesn't appear to survive well in the soils around Mendoza.
Political instability creates a jug wine market in Argentina.
During a period of extreme political instability we see many old vine vineyards being ripped out and replaced with Criolla Grande. The mission grape is easy to overcrop to produce bulk wine. Thus, Argentina gets a reputation for low quality jug wine.
Neoliberalism reignites the fine wine market.
During the 1990s Argentina transformed itself from a bulk wine producer to a fine wine powerhouse. The neoliberal economy allowed foreign and local investments to jumpstart wine businesses and international export markets. Several foreign wine companies started Mendoza wineries during this time including Clos de Siete (by Bordeaux winemaker, Michel Rolland), Viña Cobos (by Napa winemaker, Paul Hobbs), and Salentein (by Dutch entrepreneur, Myndert Pon). Additionally, local producers like Bodegas Catena Zapata move to higher ground in search of higher quality locations for vineyards.
Appellation law established to govern Argentinian wines.
Appellation of Origin created the framework for Indications of Origin (IG) in Argentina. Did you know? There are more than 100 unique wine appellations in Argentina!
First 100-point Argentina wines.
While many believe Argentina reached its wine zenith long before 2013, this was the first vintage to receive a 100-point rating for an Argentinian wine. The news causes the collector market for Argentina wines to surge.
Here is a short list of Argentina's top-rated wines from various publications:
- Bodega Aleanna 'El Gran Enemigo Single Vineyard' Gualtallary 2013 (Wine Advocate)
- Bodega Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard River Stones Malbec 2016 (Wine Advocate)
- Viña Cobos Viña Cobos Malbec 2017 (James Suckling)
- Bodega Chacra 'Chacra Treinta y Dos' Pinot Noir Patagonia 2018 (James Suckling)
- Per Se Wines 'Uní del Bonnesant' Malbec, Gualtallary 2019 (Tim Atkin)
- Terrazas de los Andes 'Los Castaños Parcel N°2 W' Malbec, Paraje Altamira 2017 (James Suckling)