Looking at the wine industry in Argentina today, one would never know what a difficult rise to world prominence it had to go through. Considering the conditions for growing grapes in Argentina, it should be noted that the general climate is very arid and dry. Not just dry, but really dry. According to the BBC, the average rainfall is less than 200 millimeters with a humidity that varies between forty to seventy percent. With the main source of water for the Mendoza River being the spring run off of the snow melting from the heights of the Andes mountains., how did the Mendoza area become such a fertile zone? The answer lies in the history of Argentina prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Before the Spanish came, the Mendoza area was populated by the Huarpes indians said to be part of the Incan empire. However by the time the Spanish arrived, the Incas had been so decimated that there was little sign of their rule in the area. There was an advanced irrigation system that controlled the flow of water through channels from the Mendoza River causing the dry arid region to be an excellent growing area. Although much more advanced (and expensive) methods of irrigation are starting to find there ways into the agricultural industry of the Mendoza region, the slightly modified Huarpes irrigation system is still in use today.
The immigration of both Spanish and Italians in the late 1800‘s added to a culture where wine was found at every meal. On a world wide scale, the Argentines drink much more than anyone else. During the 1970’s and 80’s when the consumption of wine fell off as the wine industry was attempting to grow caused an over production of wine that the government of Argentina tried to stop by artificially supporting the coops and vineyards, a plan that met with disastrous results. Even with the purchase of many wine producing lands by the government and large corporations, everything eventually collapsed leaving abandoned vineyards across the Mendoza region. Deregulation of the vineyards in the 1990’s caused a much stronger growth of the industry but with much higher quality.
The dilemma that faced wine producers at this point was the diversity between the domestic and international markets. Hoping to develop the international market called for the investments of Europeans, but until the investments were made, the domestic market was what really kept the industry afloat. Local wine drinkers were used to drinking lower quality “table wines” while the international market demanded a higher quality. For those vineyards large enough, it was merely a question of making two different wines, while the smaller vineyards had to gradually increase the quality of their wines so as not to lose the domestic while attracting the European and other international markets. The very smallest vineyards were forced to choose which market they were going to serve.
As can be readily seen, the advance of the wine market from Argentina has been no small accomplishment. In the next installment we will look at some of the different varietals that have done so well in this area.