Some of the world's best wine comes from Mendoza Province in Argentina. We've toured several of its vineyards. Here's some history of this beautiful region.
Before the Spanish
The first inhabitants of the Mendoza region in present day Argentina arrived in between 10 and 12 thousand years ago. They were nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers that settled in areas surrounding the rivers, lakes and lagoons. 500 years ago, three primary aboriginal groups lived in the province: the Huarpes (in the north), the Puelches (in the central) and the Pehuenches (in the south).
The Huarpes occupied the region from Mendoza all the way to the Uco Valley. They were skilled hunter-gatherers and knowledgeable about plants and agriculture. To resolve the problem of inadequate water, they constructed a network of irrigation channels and acequias stemming from rivers.
This clever and a sophisticated system of irrigation channels brought water from the Mendoza River to the arid plains. As a province, Mendoza is classified as a desert. The snow-melt from Andes Mountains feeds the Mendoza River only during the spring and the summer. But the Huarpes decided to turn the desert into a green and fertile land. Their irrigation system works longer than just the spring and summer, depending on snow melt.
The Incas arrived from Peru in the latter half of the 15th century. They brought advanced technological knowledge, which helped the Huarpes improve their irrigation canals. This irrigation system turned out to be important when the Spanish arrived.
The Spanish Arrive
The first Spaniards to settle in the Mendoza region came from Chile. They were trying to find land suitable to establish cities as bases from which to mine gold and silver in the Andes Range. In 1551, Francisco de Villagra, who was on his way from Peru to Chile, was the first Spaniard to set foot on Mendoza soil. When he arrived in Chile, he gave an account of the lands and their inhabitants that he had encountered in Mendoza.
Pedro del Castillo crossed the Andes and founded the city of Mendoza on March 2, 1561. He designed the layout of the city and distributed the land to be settled and cultivated by Spanish colonists.
The Spaniards were in search of gold and silver, but they also wanted to ensure they had enough food to survive. They arrived with farming tools, goats and sheep and enough seeds to cultivate fruit trees (peaches, apples, figs) and grapevines.
Those colonists unwittingly started the vineyard industry that became the key economic driver for life in Mendoza. The wine was better than gold or silver since it could be traded. The wine and liquor produced in the region was exchanged in Buenos Aires, Tucuman and along the coast for products produced in those regions.
In 1861, an earthquake destroyed Mendoza. The city rebuilt, this time in a new location away from the epicenter. Seismic science had not yet been invented, but the city wanted to be cautious. The new design included wide streets and squares that allowed for rapid movement of people in case of another earthquake.
Immigrants came to Mendoza from Italy, Spain, France and Germany, because of Mendoza’s rising notoriety in wine making. The immigrants brought new varieties of vines and innovative techniques to cultivating those vines and making wine.
When French grape varieties, including Malbec and chardonnay, arrived in Mendoza in the 1860s, wine making expanded, and even more immigrants moved to Mendoza from Europe. When the railroad from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was completed in 1885, Mendoza's winemakers cheaply and efficiently transported their wine to Buenos Aires for sale and export.
Rebirth of an Industry
Mendoza's wine industry continued to thrive until the Great Depression, when both political and economic troubles collided. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Mendoza wine industry recovered.
Wine experts from around the world came to Mendoza and helped transform the area into Argentina's flagship wine region. Vintners grew in acreage and capacity. They modernized equipment and focused on production of quality wines. Mendoza was back on the map as a leading wine region of Argentina. Today, Mendoza accounts for more than 80 percent of the country's wine production. Malbec is Mendoza’s signature grape and is shipped worldwide.
The Mendoza Province contains a wide variety of altitudes and soils. Malbec is the best-known red wine grape variety here, but you’ll also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo and others. Chardonnay is the most-planted white wine grape variety, followed by Torrontes, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Bllanc and Viognier.
Mendoza ranks high for a wine-tour vacation. We think it rivals Napa and Sonoma in California. The wine is more affordable in Argentina and is of superior quality. If you love wine, you’ll love a wine vacation in Mendoza.