Until about 20 years ago, wine production in Argentina was mostly designated for internal sale. Fortunately, with ever improving farming and transportation methods, Argentina has become a major player on the international wine stage, now ranking as the fifth largest wine-producing country in the world.
Hers is a rich and interesting winemaking history. In my previous articles, “Discover the Rich History of Argentinean Wines” and “What Makes Argentinian Wines Unique” and xxx, I talked about vines being planted in the 1500s by the Spanish, who were happy to take advantage of the irrigation system created by the native Huarpes.
The next notable time in Argentina’s wine history came with the devastating European Phlloxera epidemic in the late 1800s. When Phylloxera swept through Europe, waves of immigrants came to Argentina, bringing with them their love of wine and knowledge of good viticulture practices.
Argentina isn’t immune from Phylloxera. But unlike just about every other country, Argentina’s Phylloxera strain is a particularly weak one that doesn’t do lasting damage to rootstock or vine. So Phylloxera was not difficult to manage in Argentina and contributed to the country’s burgeoning wine expertise.
Like Australia and New Zealand, Argentina enjoys the southern hemisphere’s growing season. Buds begin breaking in October, and harvest occurs sometime in February. The actual designation for harvest to begin and end is controlled by the Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura (INV). This agency monitors starting and ending dates based on the wine regions and varieties of wine being grown. Sometimes the INV doesn’t call the end of harvest season until April. The story behind why a government body monitors this aspect of wine production is curious to me. If anyone has insights into this, I would be interested in hearing them.
Other factors contributing to the economic landscape of Argentina’s wine industry include using itinerant labor during harvest. Advanced mechanized harvesting techniques lag behind other large wine-producing countries because human labor is very cheap.
Other advances include more expert canopy management, yield control and irrigation modernization. In spite of being considered possibly behind the rest of the world in these few areas, Argentina already vastly surpasses even the Napa Valley in sheer volume of grape production (22 tons per acre vs. 2-5 tons per acre).
Argentina’s wine landscape, production methods and quality continue to improve. Because of this continuously morphing industry, there are several wine regions even developing today, from Neuquen (far south) to Jujuy (far north). Argentinean wine regions remain in flux, responding to market and other forces, so the wine map is constantly changing. What seems to be established, however, is the first officially recognized appellation: Cuyo, in Mendoza.
What’s next: Exploring Malbec, Argentina’s most important wine.