Mendoza is the country’s most important wine growing region contributing to 70% of total wine production. It is located 600 miles southwest of Buenos Aires in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It’s alluvial soils, dry climate with hot sunny days and cool nights, and high altitudes are key factors contributing to its production of high quality wines.
Wine production in Argentina dates back to the 1500’s when the first grapevine cuttings (Vitis vinifera) were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers. For the next several hundred years, Argentina’s population of largely Italian, Spanish and French immigrants consumed most of the wine it was producing. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that Argentine wines were incorporated into the global market. During this time, the industry pivoted to focus on high quality, small production wines for both the export and and domestic markets. New technologies, grape stock selection methodologies and marketing programs, together with an emphasis on understanding the soils and experimenting with growing techniques allowed Argentine wines to compete on a global stage.
There are three primary wine growing regions in Mendoza: Maipú, Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley.
Maipú is one of the oldest and most traditional winemaking areas within Mendoza.
Luján de Cuyo is Argentina’s first delineated appellation (Geographical Indicator or GI) for the purposes of wine production, recognized by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), in 1993. The vineyards in Luján de Cuyo sit at altitudes of around 3280 ft. The majority of the vineyards are on alluvial soils — sand or stone surfaces on top of clay.
Uco Valley is the up-and-coming winegrowing region in Mendoza. It contains the sub-regions of Tupungato, Tunuyán, and San Carlos. In this region the highest altitude vineyards climb from 5,580 ft. and upwards.
Mendoza is best known for its emblematic Malbec grape. In production volume, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon are rated second and third in the reds. Argentine is proving it is not a one-grape wonder and other varietals like Cabernet Franc are growing in popularity.
A white wine revolution is hitting Argentina. In addition to the widely grown Torrontés and Pedro Ximenez grapes, popular whites like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Fiano are also receiving global attention.
Mendoza is a semi-arid desert receiving an average of 300 days per year of sunshine. It’s annual average rainfall is less than 9 inches, most of that falling in the summer months of November through March.
Summers are hot and humid with average daytime temperatures of 90° that drop to 65.1° at night. Winters are cold and dry, but with brisk sunny days. Night time winter temperatures can occasionally fall below freezing. The broad thermal amplitude between day and night temperatures is important because it allows the grapes to ripen while maintaining their acidity.
Occasionally, the Zonda wind, an intensely dry, hot wind that sweeps down from the mountain slopes blows through Mendoza. Its gusts can reach up to 150mph.
Hail is a big threat during the grape growing season. The Andes funnel warm, moist air from the rainforests down into Mendoza’s desert, arid environment. The rapidly rising warm air mixed with moisture provides the convection that fuels severe weather. Most wineries have begun to install protective nets, which prevent the grapefruit-sized hail from destroying the vines.
The wineries of Mendoza benefit from the ingenious irrigation system built by the indigenous Huarpes. Channeling Andean snow melt into Mendoza’s rivers, this water travels through a system of complex and sophisticated channels to deliver water to the farming region. Furthermore, it features techniques that allow the regulation and control of the flow of water, allowing efficient use. Once the water reaches the vineyards, similar techniques can be used to periodically flood the base of their vines periodically. In other cases, more efficient drip irrigation systems are implemented.
More than wine
Mendoza is an emerging enotourism destination and base for exploring the region’s hundreds of wineries. Thanks to its friendly climate, proximity to the Andes, and numerous lakes, it offers up a variety of adventure-based activities. Mendoza attracts many adventurers looking to go horseback riding, rafting, rappelling, zip-lining, hiking and skiing on the slopes.
Aconcagua (22,837 ft), the highest mountain in South America is 70 miles northwest of Mendoza. For those not willing or able to devote at least three weeks to reaching it’s summit, a relatively-easy, self-guided day hike to Confluencia (11,090 ft) provides spectacular views.
Other hikes and water-based activities are available through Potrerillos. Forty miles from the city of Mendoza, a large dam forms an artificial lake that serves as the base for water activities like rafting while the surrounding mountains provide opportunities for hiking and paragliding.
Skiers flock to nearby Las Leñas ski resort in the winter months. Less than 300 miles from Mendoza, it is a popular Argentine skiing destination due to its high quality of snow, trails for all levels of skiers, off-piste skiing opportunities, and cross-country skiing trails.