How did European vines reach Argentina?

Malbec varietal vine
Malbec varietal vine

The European vine (Vitis vinifera L.) is a climbing plant with a woody trunk, whose fruit, the grape, is collected and consumed almost everywhere in the world, either as table grapes, as must, vinegar or as its most famous by-product, wine.

From a botanical point of view, the European vine belongs to the genre Vitis and Vitáceas family.

This species started growing before the last Ice Age in a region between the center of the Himalayas and the Caucasus. From there, it started conquering Europe, colonizing from the East, and reaching the Mediterranean countries before the Stone Age. However, there was also a wild Vitis in Europe that became extinct due to  phylloxera (an insect that affects the plant roots) in the 19th century. Humans started a  selection process of this wild vines from 7000  to 6000 BC improving their traits to make wine.

In America, it was introduced by the Spanish conquerors at the end of the 15th century. There are two hypotheses about its introduction. The first one suggests that the vine plants were brought from the Canary Islands by a Spanish conqueror named Francisco de Caravantes. There are records of a first plantation in the Concepción Valley, Peru, in the year 1551. The second hypothesis supports that the Spanish settlers brought raisins for their diet and its seeds gave origin to different varieties. This theory has had greater acceptance since, on one hand, the life of the plants is seriously compromised in long journeys and, on the other hand, the vitality of the seeds is kept when they are preserved as raisins. Likewise, the great diversity of creole varieties currently existing in the American continent, would suggest a sexual reproduction by seeds.

Francisco de Aguirre, a Spanish conqueror, brought the vines from Peru to La Serena, Chile. In 1556, a priest named Juan Cedrón, brought the first grape vines to Santiago del Estero, Argentina. This gave a starting point for producing the first national wines.

Where there is a priest, there are crowds, and where there are crowds, there must be wine to celebrate it. It is said that priest Cedrón crossed the Andes Mountains by mule, with the vine cuttings towards his destination. Those vines were made of Moscatel and Uva País, both from Spain. In this way, he managed to supply himself with wine for his masses, unintentionally making the starting point of a long history in a very prosperous territory.

Native women working at the harvest in Mendoza.
Native women working at the harvest in Mendoza.

In 1561 the grape vines arrived at Mendoza. Later on, in 1853, the governor of Mendoza hired a French agronomist named Michel Aimé Pouget, who was the first in bringing European varietals (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) to the country. On the 17th of April 1853, the first Agronomy Farm, called "Quinta Agronomica de Mendoza", was created. This would establish the basis of Argentina's viticulture and, that is the reason we celebrate the day of Malbec on the 17th of April.




1. Grape vine molecular markers. PhD. Liliana Martinez, Full Professor in the Chair of Plant
   Physiology Course, Agricultural College of the National University of Cuyo.


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