A family tradition that was put in place nearly a century ago.
As with much of Argentina’s cuisine, the country’s huge wine industry had its roots in Spain. The first documented record of a commercial vineyard was by Jesuit missionaries in 1557. Three hundred years later, French agronomist Miguel Aime Pouget brought the first cuttings of Malbec to Argentina that would eventually grow to become the country’s signature varietal.
Argentina currently ranks fifth in annual production and eighth in production, making its wine industry a very important part of the national economy. Vineyards now stretch from the tiny Jujuy Region in the far north to the Rio Negro Region, south southwest of Buenos Aires and far to the south of most vineyard land. Mendoza, in the center of the country, is the highest-rated wine producing region in the country and is home to the first quality movement the country has experienced in the past thirty years.
In Mendoza, most of the vineyards are located at relatively high altitudes, ranging from 1900 to 3600 feet, much higher than most commercial vineyards in Europe and the United States. Many Argentine vintners place the altitudes of the vines on their front labels as a source of great pride and accomplishment.
For many hundreds of years, quantity, as opposed to quality, was the formula for most Argentine wineries. With huge national consumption, there was little need of extremely high quality wines to compete on the international markets. However, a number of new wineries have appeared during the past three decades, some of which are dedicated to producing extremely high quality wines. Buoyed by the international success of small start up wineries in neighboring Chile, these wineries have begun impressing in international competitions and shows.
Certain smaller districts such as the Maipu Department, which is home to Viñas del Aconcagua Winery, have gained additional exposure for growing and producing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon due to its cooler climate and the lower salinity found in its soils. In the Uco Valley to Mendoza’s southwest, high altitude vineyards favor the Chardonnay grape. Like other Southern hemisphere producing countries, Argentina benefits from a season head start in growing and harvesting. Its annual harvest begins around February 15th and gives Argentine wines an extra six months in bottle or cask for the new vintages.
Like its neighbor Chile, Argentina is unique for the absence of phylloxera pests that decimated vineyards throughout the world. While no exact reason can be given for this phenomenon, the fact that Argentina’s wine regions are bounded by mountains, deserts, and oceans that create natural barriers against the spread of the louse must surely be considered. Argentina’s wine regions also benefit from an ancient irrigation system (begun by the Incas) that redirects massive snow droppings to the viticultural areas below through an intricate system of dams, canals and channels, and guarantees an endless supply of near perfect water.
Mendoza, Argentina None other than the New York Times has called the Mendoza Region of Argentina, “the Napa Valley of Argentina.” This amounts to a great compliment since Napa Valley is considered among the world’s finest growing areas. The two are very similar, and are joined together by the simple fact that neither has any appreciable rainfall during the most important growing season. It is therefore quite easy to control the water flow to the vines, arguably the most important factor affecting grape development and ultimate quality. The Maipu Department (sub region) is among Mendoza’s most winery populated, with many wineries owned by outside (of Argentina) interests. It is also the home to the country’s finer small wineries that have brought much attention to the area of late. Practically every European varietal can be found in Mendoza, along with many of the local varietals that had origins in Spanish viniculture. Mendoza accounts for more wine than any other region in Argentina, and its vineyards constitute approximately half of the United States’ total planted acres and more than the planted acres of both New Zealand and Australia combined.
Esteben Roldan and Marcelo Cazzasa
Esteben's career is similar to many winemakers in Argentina. After attending the Don Bosco Winemaking University in Maipu, he entered the wine business and worked for a number of wineries during his early years. His wines have been recognized by Britain’s Decanter Magazine and have been awarded numerous gold medals in international competitions. Vineyard-wise, Marcelo Cazzasa has extensive experience in Argentina and abroad, particularly in France where he assisted at Pomerol’s highly regarded Chateau Clos l’Eglise and also at Moet and Chandon. These top viticulturists assure the Viñas del Aconcagua of top small production wines for the future.
Almost one hundred years ago, Nicolas Giache and his son Ramon relocated from their native Ancona Region of Italy to Argentina in search of a better life. In 1944, Ramon purchased some vineyard land in the then laid back wine producing Argentine region of Mendoza. The plot was called finca (vineyard) El Chanar, and was planted in Malbec, Argentina’s leading varietal.
Through the years, the El Chanar Vineyard gained status as a world-class piece that garnered awards for the wineries that bought its fruit. With their location in the bosom of the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, the succeeding generations of the Giache Family continued the tradition of growing superior grapes and selling them to the wineries that comprised Argentina’s growing wine industry.
In 2000, the fourth generation of Giaches decided to build their own winery and the magnificent Viñas del Aconcagua portfolio of wines. The original winery releases were small, and today’s Viñas del Aconcagua is still classified as a boutique winery that produces slightly over 16,000 cases each year. Compared to many of its neighbors, the winery is a small proverbial drop in the Argentina wine industry bucket that ranks as the fifth largest in the world. While family icon Ramon Giache still continues to attend to the now venerable El Chanar Vineyard, his grandsons Alberto and Ruben run today’s modern state-of-the-art winery that was completed shortly after the turn of the century. Even though he possesses an electrical engineering background, Alberto Giache serves as the company’s day-to-day general manager while Ruben tends to handle human resources and oversees the vineyards. Both grandsons have continued their family’s tradition of participating in the wine business.
The winery was named in honor of the nearby great Monte Aconcagua, at 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), the highest peak in either the western or southern hemispheres. It is the dominant feature of the Mendoza, Argentina wine region. A portion of the Viñas del Aconcagua production has always
been made in the form of limited edition wines, selections that show the true character and terroir of its land and vineyards. ‘It is the Family’s intention to feature great wines from El Chanar and our other award winning vineyards,” commented Gabriel Chavarria, the company’s import director for the United States. ‘Our vineyards, and El Chanar in particular, are revered inside Argentina for their greatness, and we felt it was time to offer them to the rest of the world.” Additional acreage (30 hectares) was added during the past decade that will allow the winery to grow, depending on market conditions and international demand for its wines.
The new winery facility is capable of producing close to one million bottles a year if demand warrants.” When it comes time to finalize the blends for each year’s wines, the entire Giache family takes part. ‘It’s a wonderful time around the winery. Everyone collaborates and gets into the action,” added Chavarria. ‘It’s all about the spirit and caring the family has for our wines.” Even though Viñas del Aconcagua is still comparatively young in years, the fact that its wines have risen so rapidly in esteem tends to speak well for the future. The winery is fortunate to have established vineyards to fill its current releases, and seems poised to increase production in the near future.