Mendoza and Chile are separated by the Andes. Chilean wine country is on a considerably lower elevation than Mendoza (900 feet, compared to 2900 feet, on average). To get from one to another, you can rent a car or get on a bus and traverse the 244 miles, or you can take a 40 minute flight. At this time of the year, you are cornered into the flight simply because of two things: the Andes mountains, and winter.
This time of the year, the mountain passes are almost assuredly closed, due to snow and ice, so you take a 40 minute flight from Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport to Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport (they don’t really roll off the tongue like JFK or LAX…) and the very first thing that you notice, besides the majesty of the Andes mountains (thinking that you can reach out and touch one of them), is the severe lack of snow on the Argentina side.
Now, if you read the articles on Chile, you know that the vineyards there get their water from the cool breezes arriving from the Pacific that are driven there by the Humboldt flow. In Argentina, that is simply not possible. Why? Those pesky Andes again, with mountains like Acongagua, Ojos de Salado, and Cerro Bonete acting like a picket fence, blocking out the fog and mist. Instead, what you get is desert. So Argentina is given all the tools to have a Mediterranean climate just like Chile, minus the waterworks. What do you do? You create the waterworks.
For generations, Argentinian winemakers have depended on what snow did fall from the Andes to melt and eventually reach their vineyards, whether it was a natural wait, or winemakers went out and built channels for the water to reach their reservoirs. Many still do this today, but this is the technology of the past. Winemakers now want to reach for the future, so who do they call? Well, the Israelis, of course.
In 1965, engineers in Israel’s “Netafirm” Labratories realized that they could minimize evaporation by feeding the roots directly, instead of the traditional surface irrigation. What occurred was a revelation. If the Israelis could “make the desert bloom,” what could it do for the rest of the world? In Argentina, it meant giving a chance for an arid desert every opportunity to build a reputation of having some of the best wines in the world. Vines that would attract the talents of people like renowned Bordeaux winemaker and “consultant by air,” Michele Rolland, and Napa winemaker known consultant, the world over, Paul Hobbs. These, along with many others have been coming to Mendoza, the heart of the Argentinian wine economy, to help improve the wine market, and since the 1990’s, a true “golden era” of winemaking has taken place.
Over the next few articles, I will take you on a great journey into Mendoza. We will talk food, culture, incredible personal stories, and of course, wine. This will be a series that you won’t want to miss, just like the Chilean story.