Pleasures And Delights Of Argentina’s Wine Country
Row next to row of vines, neat, orderly, tidy, secured at either end with sturdy, angled posts, stretching on as far as you can see in all directions…
More than 350,000 planted acres…500 wineries…at least two-thirds (some sources say 80%) of total wine production for the entire country…
This is Latin America’s first wine-growing region, Mendoza, Argentina.
You’ve likely heard of San Rafael and San Martin, but you may not know the Valle de Uco, this province’s valley most recently given over to the production of grapes intended for the vintner’s vat.
Vines were first planted in this part of Mendoza in 1994. Before then, the Uco Valley was high desert, dusty and scrubby. Irrigation and investment since mean that, today, the grapes being grown here…malbec, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay…are in growing demand.
In Mendoza for the weekend to visit a friend with a vineyard of his own in this now-fertile and dramatically beautiful valley, Lief and I have been indulging in the delights of the table this part of the world is so well known for. Yesterday, we feasted on a four-course lunch with two wines, red and white, at the Bodegas Salentein, the first established in this valley and, though I’ve not yet seen others, what I’d say must be one of the most architecturally impressive and dramatic. The Dutch grape-growers behind the enterprise have erected a winery that resembles a fortress, in the shape of a cross, and that is supported by an events venue, a bar, an art gallery, and the five-star restaurant where we dined but a couple of feet away from the vines.
We’ve arrived at perhaps the most exciting time of year in this part of the world, as the harvest is under way. Some vines have been picked clean of their clusters; others await their turns. The grapes here are picked by hand, just as the vines are planted and the earth is de-stoned, all by hand.
We’re not alone. At the Bodegas Salentein yesterday, for example, we arrived just following a group of 200 classic car enthusiasts. Their vintage vehicles, shining in the midday sun, lined the stone drive leading to the winery, one of five stops on the Rally de las Bodegas (Wineries’ Rally) following Argentina’s famous Wine Route.
Hotels in Mendoza City are full, and coming and going from ours we’ve overheard wine-related chatter in French, Italian, English, German. The Fiesta de la Cosecha attracts tourists from around the world.
We’re here not as tourists, though, but scouts. As I mentioned, a friend has planted a vineyard of his own in this region’s Valle de Uco. Vines now grow on 300 of his hectares, vines heavy today with grape clusters being harvested and carted off to Mendoza wineries to be pressed, fermented, aged, and bottled.
Our friend is four years into his undertaking, and his harvest this year will generate a healthy return on his investment to date.
Vines planted and producing, infrastructure established, including roads, electricity, and water, he is now turning his attention to the next phase of his plan. Lief will have more on this soon.