The Jesuit missionaries brought cuttings mainly from Spain’s Canary Islands due to the need to produce wine for Mass. These early varieties on the continent soon bred native varieties, which led to a big family of Criolla varieties
Wine production remained completely artisanal in Argentina for almost three centuries after the Spanish missionaries planted the first vines. The first industrial wineries were founded in the early 19th century following independence.
Progress was stagnant until the arrival of European immigrants during the 19th century. The outbreak of phylloxera which destroyed vineyards throughout the European continent during the latter half of the 19th century, as well as the political instability at the outbreak of WW1, were the major push factors which drove European immigrants to try their luck in the New World.
Perhaps the most famous European to have impacted the Argentinean winemaking industry is the French agricultural engineer Michel Aimé Pouget
. Pouget was hired by the national Argentinean government to develop and expand the winemaking industry as a viticulture specialist. This important event is celebrated every year with what is now known as World Malbec Day on April 17th.
Pouget founded the first agricultural school and vine nursery in Argentina in Mendoza and he introduced French grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir
. These grapes adapted very well to the terroir and produced wines of more concentration and better quality wine than the Criolla
Malbec, or la uva francesa as it was known, began to grow significantly in number and importance in Argentina.
Major factor which facilitated the development of the Argentinean winemaking industry was the arrival of the Transandine Railway
in Mendoza in 1885. The railway allowed wines to be exported from Mendoza to the greater market of Buenos Aires. The much bigger demand led to a much greater supply and vineyards were planted at a rapid rate.
Until the end of the 20th century, Argentinean wineries produced large quantities of low-quality wines destined for the domestic market. Winemakers understood that it was not worth investing in the time and equipment to produce top-quality wines because high-end consumers preferred imported fine wines and the majority of domestic consumption was of table wines.
Argentina started to follow in Chile’s footsteps in looking outwards to the wine world in the 1990s as the value of the peso was pegged to the dollar which introduced much more free trade and helped develop the Argentinean industries (wineries included!)
Wineries in Argentina, and largely Mendoza, saw a glimmering opportunity to start to offer wine tourism as more people traveled through since the 2000s. Today Mendoza is a major wine capital in the world, and wine tourism is a significant part of the business model
Mendoza’s wineries received over 1.1 million visitors pre-pandemic, 36% of whom were foreigners. Four in every 10 wine tourists are Brazilian (which is one of Argentina’s most important export markets), followed by North American and English visitors.