The legacy of wine in Argentina

Establecim Antonio Tomba

The production and consumption of wine in Argentina dates back to over four hundred years ago when the first specimens of Vitis vinifera were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century.

In 1551, the first vines were planted in Argentina, spreading rapidly in the central, western and northeastern areas of the country. Favored by the optimum soil and weather conditions of the Andean region, the winemaking industry experienced rapid, extensive growth.

The Catholic priests who came to these lands planted vineyards near their monasteries to ensure the provision of wine for the celebration of Holy Mass.

During the XIX century, European immigrants introduced new vinegrowing techniques and grape varieties, which found an ideal environment for their development in the Andes and the Río Colorado Valley.

Between 1850 and 1880, Argentina eventually got to join the international economic networks. Two factors made this possible: the expansion of the railway, which contributed to the development of communications among the provinces; and the incorporation of Patagonia to the national territory after the Conquest of the Desert, which forced the indigenous peoples of the region to retreat. The incorporation of lands that were well-suited to agricultural and livestock production and the arrival of immigrants laid the foundations for the development of the wine industry as a national industry.

During this period, in 1853, the Quinta Normal – the first school of agriculture in the country – was created in Mendoza. Michel Aimé Pouget was appointed as the Quinta's Principal and was the first to introduce French vines in Mendoza, to promote their cultivation and to teach scientific methods to improve fruit development. Both Mendoza and San Juan saw changes leading to the modernization of the industry.

The passing of the Water Act and the creation of the General Irrigation Department, together with the implementation of measures promoting agricultural development and credit for the implantation of vineyards, the construction of wineries and the incorporation of cutting-edge machinery and technology, as well as the development of qualified human resources for the development of wine-growing on the basis of scientific knowledge, all contributed to the expansion of vineyard acreage and an increase in the amount of produced wine.

By 1873, Argentina already had 5,000 acres of vineyards, and by 1893, that area had expanded five-fold to 25,000 acres.

The expansion of the vineyard area and the growth of the wineries led to changes in the land, the landscape and the architecture.

Early in the 1900's, the vineyard area had reached 519,800 acres.

In the 1960's the production and elaboration system was finally complete, with large winemaking establishments, bottling plants and a solid distribution and retail network covering the main centers of consumption across the country.

In the 1970's the prevailing model, based on the production of large volumes of low quality wines geared towards the domestic market, collapsed. The sweeping entry of soft drinks and beer into the market led to a drop in the consumption of table wine from 90 liters per capita in 1970 to 55 liters per capita in 1991. Between 1982 and 1992 extensive uprooting of vineyards was undertaken, and 36% of the existing vineyards were removed.

By the end of the 1980's and the early 1990's a new era began for the Argentine wine industry. The arrival of Neoliberalism in the national economy led to the implementation of a model of adjustment and the incorporation of Argentina into the global market. New local and foreign businesspeople came into the scene. They geared the industry towards the production of small volumes of top quality wines, both for export and for domestic consumption. Due to the incorporation of new technologies, growing systems, grape stock selection techniques and marketing systems, the Argentine wine industry has found its place in the international market.

"Argentina Tiempo de Cosecha". Homenaje a la vitivinicultura en el Bicentenario de la Patria. Josefina Rosner ediciones. 2010.

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