ARGENTINE WINE HISTORY
The stage of traditional viticulture 1561/1767
Argentine viticulture had its origins in the mid-16th century, and coincides with the first Spanish settlements. Indeed, the foundations of Santiago del Estero (1553) and Mendoza (1561), opened the way for the introduction of the first grape vines. It spread through Cuyo, Tucumán and the Rio de la Plata area, until it was consolidated in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the stage of Creole viticulture, with its main center in Mendoza and consumer markets in Córdoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires, among others. Heavy carts or mule troops led by the muleteers, were in charge of moving the wine in leather skins or totora-protected ceramic jars. In this way the thousand kilometers of road between Cuyo and the Coast were crossed to transfer the wine.This trade was carried out between two political units: Mendoza was the capital of the Province of Cuyo of the Kingdom of Chile, and its products left from there to supply the Government of Buenos Aires, which depended directly on the Viceroyalty of Peru.Between the last decades of the sixteenth century and the first of the seventeenth, the first wineries and vineyards emerged in Mendoza. Some of them reached really important dimensions for the time, especially if one takes into account that in its first century of history, Mendoza did not exceed 60 “neighbors”, that is, heads of family. Mendoza's progress, from the point of view of the population, was very slow in the first years of its history, due to the aridity of the climate and the situation of isolation suffered by the Cuyana capital. However, even in these precarious conditions, the residents of the city quickly launched the wine industry, and came to raise large wineries.The vineyards and wineries of Alonso de Reinoso (16th century), Alonso de Videla, Juan Amaro and Antonio Moyano Cornejo (17th century) are good examples.
Alonso de Reinoso arrived in Mendoza shortly after the foundation, from Chile. For fourteen years he lived in this city, and did an intense job of promoting agriculture and industry. He planted a vineyard and installed a cellar with a capacity of 5,500 liters of wine.Another prominent wine entrepreneur was Don Alonso de Videla, whose winery reached notable dimensions. In fact, around 1618, their winery had 75,000 liters of wine, as it stored the crops of the current year and of the previous vintage, about 20 people worked in its vineyards.
Another interesting case is that of Antonio Moyano Cornejo; It represents the second generation in the history of Mendoza. Don Agustín made his way, through trade and cart troops, to constitute a solid position. He planted a vineyard with 12,000 plants and a winery that, over the end of his life (1658), had a capacity of 30,000 liters.The presence of these wineries in Mendoza is really remarkable for the time. The documents speak of a dozen vineyards during the seventeenth century and a cultivated area of vineyards of approximately 20 hectares.
The winemaking and marketing process
Winemaking was a very complicated art at that time, given the precariousness of the means available. According to the architect Liliana Girini, in the colonial winery “During the colonial era, and until the mid-nineteenth century, the elaboration was rudimentary, in small quantities and had a domestic character. The winery was a small enclosure related to the field of housing; often an isolated or attached room to it; with thick adobe walls and few openings. The roofs, of little slope to one or two waters, of chañar or carob tree, covered with cane and mud cake ”.
Winemaking began with the grinding of the grapes in the winery. This one was made of cowhide, in a wooden structure. There, a traditional winemaking method was launched. The winemaking processes and their equipment were also rudimentary; the grapes were treading “on the paw” in cow or ox leather vats, suspended from thick horcones. Once the must was obtained, it was dropped by the tail of the animal, which officiated as a conduit. The must and the skin were collected in leather buckets, provided with rings through which two rods passed, which allowed them to be transported to the cellar. Once there, the liquid was poured into large boiled clay jars, where fermentation took place. Once the fermentation was finished, the new wine was transferred to the conservation vessel, a process that was done by gravitation itself, when the cap of the fermentation jar was removed. In this operation a strainer was interposed, made of perforated leather, so that the stream of wine, when sneaking, left the seed, the skin and other impurities. Once the conservation jar is filled with the new wine, it is covered and sealed with lime, plaster or mud, to prevent the entry of any foreign body The wine was left to park or aged until the moment of the expedition. You can see that winemaking was a truly artisanal task, in which all the care of the case should be paid.
Quickly, Mendoza began to produce a surplus to sell outside the region. As a result, the process of building external markets was launched early. Between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, there was the opening and consolidation of the commercial routes to the then very distant cities of the region (Bs. As., Santa Fe, Tucumán). These first incursions did not take long to stabilize and formalize. As a result, in 1618 the first authorization of entry to Buenos Aires of wines and spirits of Mendoza was registered. Shortly after, in 1624, the commerce of Mendoza wine extended to the governorship of Paraguay. Averaging the 18th century, Mendoza's foreign trade reached a rate of 90 annual carts (20 went to Santa Fe and 60 to Buenos Aires). At this point, Mendoza was already a solid regional wine emporium.