Argentina: the present and the future

Travels in Wine / Argentina

Argentina: the present and the future

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Argentina produces lovely malbecs, cabernets (franc and sauvignon), bonardas, some petit verdot, one or two chardonnays and, of course, its aromatic white grape, torrontés.

However, after that one struggles to find the diversity of neighbouring Chile. Why?

In many cases this is because while wine comes from a very wide range of latitudes, from Rio Negro in the south to Salta in the north, latitude is often compensated by altitude, producing similar climates.

A wine map of Argentina. Used with the kind permission of Sebastián Zuccardi
A wine map of Argentina. Used with the kind permission of Sebastián Zuccardi

When I visited Rio Negro for the first time, and hearing this was Patagonia, I was excitedly looking forward to snow-clad mountains and remarkable trees and greenery. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the vineyards of Rio Negro were planted in the valley cut by the river from a vast featureless plateau of scrubby vegetation and tumbleweeds! The grapes are grown mostly around the river at about 200m altitude and malbecs typically are picked at 14% alcohol.

Most wine from Argentina comes from Mendoza, and a malbec grown here at 1,000m altitude is also picked at about 14%. Here is one of the few places where some exciting new cooler vineyards are being planted in the Valley de Uco at altitudes up to 1,500m, which I describe in the next article.

If one moves far to the north in Salta at 1,600m altitude, malbecs here are picked at 14-15%.

Harvesting in the high-altitude Salta region in the north
Harvesting in the high-altitude Salta region in the north

So again, the wines are grown in similar climates.

It would be nice to see more Rhône varieties planted in these warm climates. Garnacha, mourvèdre, cinsault, counoise, carignan etc could all prosper here.

There is little exploration of cool climates which are suited to pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Trapiche have planted some sauvignon blanc on the coast which is moderately successful.

I would also love to see more wines from the south of Argentina in Patagonia. The prevailing winds here are from the west so much of Patagonia is cool but dry as it is in the rain shadow of the Andes, so apparently ideal for viticulture.

I have visited what I think is the most southerly vineyard in Argentina in real Patagonia in Chubut province at Epuyen near El Bolsón, which is owned by Weinert. It's wild and woolly country with lovely mountains, lakes and condors. (Incidentally, this is also where the Jesse James' gang sought refuge – the story is nicely told in Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia.) Here at last the climate is promising for riesling, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.

Argentina's most southerly vineyard: Weinert's vines in Chubut, Patagonia
Argentina's most southerly vineyard: Weinert's vines in Chubut, Patagonia

But here I learned the answer to my question of why so few vineyards are planted in real Patagonia: Weinert told me it's difficult to be a pioneer.

One year the birds ate all the grapes. Another year no one turned up to harvest the grapes.

But perhaps the greatest drawback is the human problem.

If one has a family one is a long way from good hospitals and schools. The South American life is built round the family and the support system it offers.

If your family is in Mendoza, it's hard to make a life for oneself in Patagonia.


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