While Chileans are investing in the Argentinian wine industry, there is a strange lack of investment the other way around.
I have a notion that it’s pretty unlikely that either a Chilean or Argentine could have invented the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. Travel from Chile’s dry Central Valley over the dizzying Andes to Mendoza or La Rioja and a similarly boney dry land awaits. Yes, there are great green swathes of agriculture, and not least vines, but these verdant-looking oases are typically down to the hand (and irrigation) of man. ‘The grass is always greener…’ is clearly an expression born of cooler, wetter, northern climes.
Dry as a bone: La Rioja region – Photo by Jorge Gobbi on Flickr
Take the spirit of the saying, though, and you might be forgiven for thinking that Chile’s vignerons are spending an unusual amount of time gazing lovingly at the rival vineyards across the great Andean divide. And not just gazing. Investment has flowed in, as have winemakers, with Argentina now boasting quite a number of Chilean-backed wines.
Chilean giant Concha y Toro has a well-established foothold in Trivento, while the charismatic Aurelio Montes of Viña Montes is making some excellent Argentine wines at his Kaiken estate. Other Chilean producers busy at work here include Aresti (Espiritu de Argentina), Santa Rita (Doña Paula), Santa Carolina (Finca del Origen) and Augustin Huneeus of Veramonte fame, plus others beside.
The intriguing thing, though, is that few (if any) Argentine winemakers have felt inspired to spread their wings, repay the compliment and embrace their rival’s soils. Of course, as anyone who has visited both Argentina and Chile will know, there has long been a strong rivalry between these two nations. But putting such delicate considerations aside, the obvious question that springs to mind is ‘why?’
For an iconic Chilean winemaker like Montes the reason for embracing Argentina is simple. “We make great wines in Chile, but Argentina’s Malbec is special,” he told me. “Mendoza is really quite close and Kaiken gives us, as winemakers, the opportunity to make both Malbec and other varieties in a different style, which is very exciting.”
Argentinian Malbec Vineyard – Photo by Pablo Gonzalez on Flickr
And, as with Kaiken, there is no doubt that estates such as Trivento, Doña Paula, Finca del Origen and others are an asset to their Chilean owners when it comes to offering a richer portfolio to time-pinched buyers in their export markets. But it still doesn’t answer the question as to why Argentina’s winemakers have stayed rooted in their domestic soils.
“It speaks for itself; Chile knows our terroir is better,” declared José Alberto Zuccardi – though judging by his laugh, his comments were at least partially tongue in cheek. A couple of months later, over in Chile, I raised the question again.
“The Argentines are different,” came the reply, as several heads nodded in agreement over lunch at Anakena in the Cachapoal Valley. “Perhaps they like to party more and don’t spend as much time investing their money in making wine!”
Again, this was said in jest, but no one would give a straight answer on either side of the Andes. At least not to a journalist armed with notebook and pen. Given that Argentina and Chile both provide a wealth of fantastic places for nurturing the vine, with some of the greatest wines doubtless yet to come, perhaps we’ll see more Argentine colonisation of Chile with time.
Or, just maybe, there’s a tacit understanding that while Chile excels at crafting its own interpretations of classic international varieties and styles, Argentina is just a spot more individual and off-the-wall, offering an extra layer of vinous diversity. It would seem all those meaty Malbecs, tongue tangoing Torrontes and juicy Bonardas are a powerful draw for both winemakers and wine drinkers alike. Varieties, all, that Argentina has made its own. And perhaps this is why – whisper it quietly – the grass really does appear greener on the other side. Depending on which side you are already on!
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