NORTHERN ARGENTINA’S WINE HISTORY
Prior to the arrival of Spaniards in America, there were civilizations in Salta that reached a high degree of cultural development. During the early colonial era, Jesuits brought the first vineyards to Argentina halfway through the XVII century. They cultivated 3,200 hectaes of vineyards “four leagues from the town of Molinos”, in La Bodega Estate (La Angostura nowadays) in the region of the Calchaquí Valleys.
Other pioneers in the art of winemaking arrived later, such as Miss Carmen Frías de Diez, owner of “La industria” winery, who came in the mid XIX century; Tomás, Francisco and Basile Peñalba, owners of “El Recreo”; Silverio and José Antonio Chavarría in “La Banda” and “La Rosa”, all of them from Cafayate and Miss Gabriela Torino de Michel from Tolombón. A century after the proclamation of Independence, between 1910 and 1920, brothers David and Salvador Michel were looking for lands suitable for winemaking. Thus, they bought “El Recreo” from the brothers Peñalba and “La Banda” and “La Rosa” from brothers Chavarría.
Salta began seducing many winery owners with its charm and extraordinary height. Michel Torino’s wineries were established over 1,700 meters high, in vineyards destined to grow the best grapevines.
Salta’s wine culture settled in and developed successfully, many people fell in love with the province of gentle slopes and sandy loam soils irrigated by melted water from the mountains.
Wine regions in Northern Argentina can be found in the Bermejo River Basin that occupies part of Northeastern Salta, Northeastern Catamarca, Northwestern Tucumán and a minor portion of Southern Jujuy, covering a total surface of approximately thirty-three thousand km2.
This region is constituted by different subregions. Viticulture is developed in the region composed by a string of high plateaus that include a system of mountain ranges, volcanoes, drainage lagoons from endorheic basins and salt plains. The cold and dry weather presents high thermal amplitudes during the day. Along the basin the weather is semiarid with 200 mm of annual precipitation. Solar irradiance is very high and winds blow very intensely. The region’s landscape is made of mountains and hills and its soils are made of varied rocks. The Calchaquí Valleys’ soils are predominantly sandy-loam or sandy with a large amount of fine sand. It possesses a deep configuration with slightly stony subsoil that ensures excellent permeability and the leaching of harmful salts. This area is mainly irrigated by the rivers Calchaquí and Santa María, along with other watercourses. Water is also collected from the subsoil through drilling.
Northern Argentina’s climate is mild, with remarkable thermal amplitudes and extraordinary atmospheric transparency. Summers are long and occasionally late freezes occur in spring, even though the freeze-free season covers October through April. Hailstorms are frequent and they normally take place during summer storms.
Cafayate, the main wine producer of the region, has a warm climate with cool nights. It stands out for its great thermal amplitude and long summers that allow for grapevines to grow exceptionally. This growth is also due to its deep sandy soils. Given its dry climate, annual precipitations fluctuate around 150 mms. Annual average temperature is 15 C. Cryptogamic diseases have little effect on the region and there is low risk of late freezes and hailstorms.
The surface of 2,649 hectares planted in Salta in 2012 is 47% superior than that of 2001, which shows how appealing this regions has become to vine growers and winery owners.
Similarly to the rest of the country, this growth has mainly influenced red varieties, especially Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. The demand of Malbec and the quality accomplished by this region’s wines have been the main reasons of its expansion.