History of the Wine Industry in the Americas

  • THE HISTORY OF VITICULTURE IN THE AMERICAS

    The beginnings of viticulture in the Americas dates back to the middle of the 16th century. The Spanish and Portuguese brought bunches of raisins from Europe to the newly acquired regions in the New World. In the lands of Peru, the Spanish sowed seeds taken from the raisins, growing them in nurseries and transplanting them to the first Peruvian vineyards.

    Years later, the Jesuits from Chile introduced vine shoots in Santiago del Estero and from there to Mendoza, San Juan, Cordoba, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta and Catamarca. These vine shoots became the ‘native vines’ of South America.

    The first official survey carried out in Mendoza in 1786 registered a cultivated area of approximately 100 hectares. In 1914, there were 70,000 hectares of vines in the Argentine Republic (vs 360,000 hectares in Italy and 1,900,000 hectares in France), making Argentina 9th in the world in terms of cultivated vineyard area. Today, Argentina holds the 5th place with 226,000 hectares.

    THE HISTORY OF VITICULTURE IN ARGENTINA

    Argentina’s viticulture and wine-making history started during colonization times, as growing vines was closely related to the agricultural practices of the Spanish colonist. In the mid-16th century, the conquerors took the first Vitis Vinifera plants to Cuzco. From there, in 1551, the vines were taken to Chile, and six years later, they were introduced in Argentina by the people of Santiago del Estero. Cultivation spread from this province to the center, west and northwest of the country. There is no accurate information about the exact date the cultivation of the first vineyards took place in Mendoza and San Juan, although some analysts say that it happened first in San Juan, between the years 1569 and 1589.

    At first, wine was produced in small amounts, just to provide for the needs of the small communities of the colony. The process of wine-making was rudimentary and was done domestically, but it was widespread among the producers, who in time achieved products of very good quality.

    From 1853 on, a series of favorable events, such as the pacification and constitutional organization of the country, and the creation of Quinta Normal de Agricultura (the first agricultural school of Argentina) led to the most important transformation of the country’s wine region. In 1884, the introduction of the railroad, which linked Mendoza and San Juan with Buenos Aires (the capital city) encouraged growth of the industry. From then on, the Cuyo provinces assumed the role of suppliers of agricultural products – providing wine for the national market and for the international market through the Buenos Aires harbor.

    One of the most influential elements of Argentina’s wine history has been the contribution of European immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries who were familiar with viticulture and wine-making from their home countries. Their knowledge and influence led to a substantial change in the way the vines were grown and gave the industry a great push forward. These immigrants brought with them new growing techniques, new wine varietals and innovative wine-making techniques and practices that were used in Europe.

    The opening of the Winemaking School of Quinta Agronómica in the city of Mendoza in the early 1900s greatly influenced the history of viticulture and wine making in the country. The school gave validity to wine making as a movement in based on science and study, as opposed to just experience. The school is considered a true milestone that divides the before and after in viticulture and winemaking: from handcrafted work & historical practices to the study of scientific and technical fundamentals of wine making to create beautiful wines.

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