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History of Argentine Wine Industry
The Argentine wine industry is one of the most exciting in the world right now. After starting out as just humble communion wine and table wine slosh, the Argentine wine producers are diversifying and becoming increasingly innovative creating some world renowned wines that is hitting the right note with wine critics and fans everywhere. The hallmark grape ‘malbec’ is now synonymous with Argentina and is well-known, and loved, internationally. Every chapter of Argentine history and politics has shaped the wine industry and made it taste the great way it does today.
So let’s start at beginning when the wine industry in Argentina was a mere seedling in the 16th Century. Grapes did not reach the South American continent until the arrival of the Christopher Columbus and his conquest. The first vineyards were established in Chile in the middle of the XVI century when the Spanish colonisers started to produce wines for use in the Holy Communion. And so, it was with the spread of Catholicism in Argentina that vineyards began to pop up in the parts of the country that displayed good wine growing conditions.
The enjoyment of wine in Argentina has since metamorphosed into a religion in itself, transcending its original sacrosanct purpose. The transformation of the industry was as a result of a variety of factors. Low-scale wine production of lesser quality wine mostly for religious purposes carried on until the 19th Century, which was when Argentina’s culture and society would be changed forever. The newly independent and founded Argentina government was faced with the task of populating the enormous territory of the Argentine nation. The mantra for this process was ‘to govern is to populate,’ so, just like the United States and Brazil, Argentina flung open its doors to allow immigrants into the country. The government’s plan was to attract wealthy, educated Europeans, but instead the newcomers were mostly peasants who originated from poorer countries, such as, Italy, Spain and Armenia. Yet, despite this disappointment, the immigrant population did do something right: they transformed the Argentine wine industry.
The Malbec grape was brought to Argentinean soil in the 20th Century by this new wave of Europeans. This easy-to-grow, easy-to-make-taste-good, grape helped to boost production of wines in Argentina. The huge increase in population, thanks to the immigrant recruitment campaign, meant that there was then a much bigger market to buy the wine. Plus let’s not forget that the majority of these immigrants were from Mediterranean countries were the viticulture way of life was already engrained.
However, it would still take a while before wine would reach the high standard that it is at today. The Argentinean wine industry produced for the mass, home market, churning out table wine for everyday use. These low quality and economical wines are still widely available, the price and easy drinking nature of these wines make them a popular choice. Tastes and production have improved in recent years. It was due to rollercoaster nature of the Argentine economy that the quality of wines could be changed for the better. During the controversial rein of ex-President Carlos Menem, in the 1990s, the wine industry boomed. Under Menem’s government, the Argentine peso was pegged to the US dollar in a dubious, and ultimately disastrous, economic policy. This did mean that Argentine wine producers were suddenly granted high buying power on the international market, which they used to modernise and improve the industry. Many vineyards imported modern, European equipment, such as stainless steel tanks, which greatly improved the quality of wines. Despite the advancements in the Argentine wine industry, the overvaluation of the Argentine peso was in some ways detrimental to the wine industry. Wine prices were also pegged to the dollar, so this meant that the wines of Argentina could not compete on the international market and Argentina only managed to export a meagre 1% of its wine to lucrative foreign markets.
The economic crisis of 2001 in Argentina resulted in the devaluation of the peso. This was a catastrophic economic event for the country and Argentina had to receive a record bail out and then default on its loans to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). However, some good things did come out of the crisis in 2001. The devaluation of the peso meant that Argentine wines proffered competitive prices internationally. The crash also allowed many foreign investors and wine experts to buy up and invest in vineyards in Argentina, bringing new expertise from abroad that helped to further improve the quality of wines. Check the region of Cuyo in this Argentina travel guide, better known as the wine region of Argentina.
Wine tourism in Argentina has been another important chapter in the history of Argentine wines. The tourism industry in Argentina has experienced a huge boom in the last ten years. The devaluation of the peso meant that travelling in Argentina became a much cheaper option for tourists than when the peso was pegged to the dollar. The Argentinean wine regions are one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Visitors to the country experience the wonders of Argentine produced wine and spread the positive message back home, so tourism is also boosting the export wine industry too.