The Story of Mendoza's Wine

Blessed by rich sunlight and a panorama of snow-filled mountains, Mendoza dominates Argentina's winemaking industry, and it's one of the most successful wine regions on earth. Surrounding the beautiful city of Mendoza, just to the east of the towering Andes, the province accounts for more than 70% of the nation's wine production, and it's the world's sixth-largest producer of grapes.

The Spanish began cultivating Mendoza's wild American vines in the 16th century as well as grapes they'd brought with them from the Old Continent, and wine production soon dominated the region's economy. They were able to harvest this semiarid land -- which receives little natural rainfall -- by using a vast irrigation system originally developed by the Incas and extended by the Huarpes, indigenous people from the region. A series of artificial irrigation ditches and canals divert water from the Mendoza, Diamante, Tunuy√°n, and Atuel rivers, which fill as snow melts in the Andes to nourish the land.

The development of Mendoza's wine industry ebbed and flowed. Wine production stalled in the late 18th century as Spain restricted grape growing to prevent competition with its colonies. The industry was renewed following national independence, as European experts introduced French grapevine stocks and wineries to the region. However, the earthquake of 1861 destroyed most of the existing wineries, and it was not until the opening of a railroad in 1884 that wine production resumed on a significant scale. The railway brought with it many of the founding families of today's wineries, who carried new winemaking techniques and varietals from Italy, France, and Spain. A series of economic crises plagued the industry in the first half of the 19th century, and Mendoza's wines seldom made it farther than the common Argentine table. Some of the wines were so low in quality that soda water was needed to help wash them down, a tradition that continues in some places today, though not because the wine is of poor quality.

In the past decade, wine from Mendoza has reached well beyond the common table to the international stage. Argentina's National Wine Growing Institute has regulated the country's wine industry and spearheaded quality improvements, with increased focus on the international market. New production techniques, state-of-the-art machinery, foreign investment and expertise, advanced irrigation processes, and better grape varieties have combined to bring Mendoza international acclaim. The region's dry, sandy soil; low humidity; and rich sun combine to create wines of high alcohol content and rich fruity character, the most important of which is Malbec, characterized by a powerful fruit bouquet with sweet, dense tannins. Mendocine vineyards grow many other varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, bonarda, Syrah, Barbera, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.