During our 3 weeks in Argentina, we had a very complete experience, going from South to North to visit Mendoza and Salta regions. Here are our global comments on what we experienced!
Hectares of vines producing wine grapes: 220 848 ha
White varieties: 27,2% of total production with Pedro Gimenez and Torrontes ahead
Red varieties: 62,8% of total production with Malbec ahead
Annual harvest in 2017: 2,6M tons
Argentina is 6th in terms of wine production (2018 figures)
Argentina is currently facing a major financial and economic crisis. Indeed, inflation is escalating and the currency sliding leading to an economic instability and high volatility. Therefore, Argentinian people are very concerned about this situation and most of them know every day the parity of Argentinian pesos with US Dollar. Currently, 1 euro corresponds to 49 Argentinian pesos.
Consequently, the wine industry suffers from this crisis, and buying a bottle of wine is now a minor priority for Argentinian people. Consumption has drastically decreased: while people used to drink 86,8L per person per year in 1964, they now only drink 18,9 in 2018. And even from 2017 to 2018, the consumption decreased by 6,7%. 2018. This drop in consumption is also boosted by the emergence of several alternatives such as beers, which has became very popular in Argentina (notably because they are cheaper than wines). Moreover, young people wish to drink original beverages. They would prefer sweeter drinks, or novelties like ‘Vino Frizze’, ‘Blue Vino’ or sparkling wines.
Economic crisis apart, this decline is also the result of higher quality vs quantity. Production has shifted over the last twenty years. After an almost exclusive focus on cheap table wines, the decrease in domestic consumption has led to a painful restructuring of the vineyard. Mid- and high-end products have been developed, a trend favored by the arrival of many foreign investors.
One of the main consequence of this dropping consumption is exportation: the national market is not enough to capture all the production and wine producers have to look for opportunities overseas. Argentina exports mainly to Brazil and the USA. Because of the current pesos depreciation, Argentinian wines are less competitive and Chile, its main rival on the continent is gaining market shares.
The progressive emphasis on malbec has enabled Argentinian wines to be promoted. Originally from the Cahors region in the South-West of France, introduced by the Frenchman Michel Pouget in 1853, this grape variety has become the icon of Mendoza. Mendoza produces 85,5% of the total production followed by San Juan with 5,7%. Argentina accounts for two thirds of the world's planted area with more than 30,000 hectares (18,7% of Argentinian vineyards). And this grape variety is expanding: from 2006 - 2017, hectares of Malbec have grown by 69,4%!
Where does it come from? Malbec was used by most of the Bordeaux castles during the 1855 classification before almost disappearing in France with the phylloxera epidemic. Argentina has finally been able to take advantage of this French grape variety, which blends perfectly with its terroir and its dry climate, that prevents the development of diseases.
In Argentina, wine tourism plays a predominant role and is mainly concentrated in the province of Mendoza.
Today, the province of Mendoza is home to 70% of Argentina's 210,000 hectares of vines. Located 1000 kilometres from the capital Buenos Aires, the Mendoza metropolitan area has a population of nearly one million inhabitants. It’s a typical South American city with colonial buildings, public parks and colorful streets. Wine is everywhere. As soon as you leave the airport, giant billboards promote the largest bodegas and cellars and incite people to taste Argentinian wines.
This wine-growing tradition dates back to Spanish colonisation in the middle of the 16th century. The conquistadors used the irrigation system set up by the Incas to develop the vines in what they called the "Tierra de Arena" (the "sand country"). The viticulture has developed in three oases that barely cover 3% of the province's territory.
women in the wine industry
In the Argentinian wine industry, men play a more prominent role than women. Indeed, the majority of Argentinian vineyards are run by men. During our stay in the Argentinian vineyards, we did not meet any women winemakers, unlike in South Africa for example, and the majority of men told us about sexism problems in the Argentinian winemaking environment. There are women working in wineries but they are not the ones taking the decisions: all the women that we met helped with harvest tasks.
However, things are slightly changing. Indeed, some women have taken on major roles in the wine industry. For example, we can mention Susana Balbo, who became the owner of the Dominio del Plata winery in Mendoza. She was the first woman president of Argentinian wines. In addition, the Argentina's Paz Levinson was appointed Chief Sommelier of the Pic Group in March 2018. During her career, she was elected best Argentinian sommelier in 2010 and 2014, best sommelier of the Americas in 2015, 4th best sommelier in the world in 2016.
climate and global warming
Because of global warming, winemakers must adapt: for instance, if years are warmer, they would adapt his cultivation practices by tilling the soil or weeding the inter-row areas to prevent the grass from competing with the vine. They would also leave more leaves on the vines to prevent the sun from reaching the bunches too much.
In the longer term, other solutions are available, such as irrigation. In Argentina, in Mendoza, viticulture totally depends on irrigation. And with the melting of glaciers, water irrigation is essential because if there is no more water, there will be no more vines. Therefore, Argentinians begin to buy vines higher up in the north of the country or in Patagonia. The problem is that irrigation (even if it is reasoned by a "drop by drop" system) does not really correspond to a local wine approach, and increasing our water consumption does not allow us to be eco-responsible. Another solution would be to select other varieties or rootstocks. Winemakers could consider planting varieties that are less sensitive to drought.
Argentinian vineyards are very affected by hail episodes that endanger the vines. Argentina is one of the countries with the most severe hail storms in the world. The Mendoza region, which produces the most part of Argentinian wine, is a semi-desert region in which violent storms regularly devastate wine production. To physically protect itself against a scourge that completely destroys 10 to 20% of the vineyard every year, Argentina has equipped its vines with safety nets, especially for its best quality terroirs and plots. There are two types of nets, one that covers the vines from above and requires stakes and a thick canvas, and another, lighter and less expensive, that traps vegetation on either side of the row.
However, there are disadvantages. Indeed, the high nets would reduce sunlight by 15 to 20%, which is not the case for removable nets, which are ineffective for pergola vines.
Because of the social problems that Argentina has experienced in recent years, it’s difficult to recruit workforce to harvest. Indeed, Argentinians are increasingly uninterested in the wine industry and are no longer ready to pick up grapes by hand. Moreover, Argentinians who do not have jobs and who would potentially be interested in this work, finally prefer to keep their subsidies, since the salary they would receive would no longer allow them to receive these allowances. Thus, even if one of the advantages of hand harvesting is to create new jobs, the majority of vineyards use machine harvesting.
When the harvest is done by hand, Argentinian winemakers have an original way of remunerating the pickers. Indeed, those who harvest are given a token for each crate of grapes brought back. At the end of the day, each picker will be paid according to the number of tokens recovered. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see some pickers running in the vineyards, in order to earn a maximum number of tokens and therefore have a better salary. To give you an idea, one token is worth $0,50 cts so at the end of the day, people would in average get paid $20.
Bernard Douvry, Georges Marais, Florence et Emmanuel Ramé, Florence et Jérome Dubar, Sabine Marais, Brigitte et Jean-Benoit Ramé, Marie-Christine Douvry, Molly Breiner, Anne-Sophie Klimczak, Lyssiar Oriwen, Astrid Massot, Juliette Leroy, Walfroy Dauchy, Sylvain Dubar, Antoine Rogeau, Tanguy Le Quilliec, Agathe Houssin, Mauricette et André Michel, Gillian Goulart, Ianja Rabenasolo,Valentine Burban, Delphine Héran, Valentine Ramé, Éléonore de Marnhac, Barthélemy Héran, Mathilde Perruchot, Jules Veyrat et Lise Riesen, Juliette Pinget, Juliette Dubar, Pablo Veyrat, Holly Bolgar, Jérémy Cerf, Phoebé de Sousa Passos, Emmanuelle Guisln, Charlotte Fliche, Mathilde Nike, Matthieu Giudicelli, Edouard Dollfus, Perrine Mathieu, Marie Altmayer, Romain Brissonneau, Valentine Bono, Yvan de la Baume, Maxence Béguin, Lydia Bellahouel, Aurélie Bergeras, Grégoire Leroy, Eloi Marquet de Vasselot, Agathe Guérin, Margaux Nuyts, Angèle de Leusse, Jean-Baptiste Mulliez, Mathilde Halpern, Diane Bunod, Blandine Charveriat, Marie Robaczewski, Clémentine Mittelman, Marie Delavoie, Holly Quintard, Chloé Peugeot et Antoine Charlent !