Why Chileans are Investing in Argentinian Vineyards

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.

Argentinian Vineyards - La Rioja
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.”

Argentina Wine - Malbec Vineyard
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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Andrew Catchpole
Following an English Degree, a Diploma in publishing and a formative stint at the popular wine merchant Oddbins, Andrew joined Harpers Wine & Spirit Weekly, later launching and editing HOT (Harpers on Trade) restaurant and bar magazine. This was followed by several years as Wine Correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. Based in Brighton, Andrew now writes on wines, spirits, restaurants and travel for numerous trade and consumer publications including Harpers Wine & Spirit, Decanter, The Guardian, Slowfood, Imbibe, Square Meal, Drinks Business, Wine Business International, Drinks International, OLN and The Times.

3 responses to “Why Chileans are Investing in Argentinian Vineyards

  1. These are both countries in which the export markets have grown from little 15 years ago to being really significant now. As the business model becomes even more stable and predictable wine interested entrepreneurs from all over the world will increase their interests in South America. Look at what has happened in Australia re this.

    It is true that Argentina has some truly unique indigeous styles and more so than Chile currently. In the early 1970s the New Zealand government paid vineyard owners to pull up vines; they had yet to discover Sauvignon Blanc.

    All considered though my conclusion is that the Argentine domestic market is far more advanced than the Chilean market and that this is a key reason that the Chileans find Argentina so attractive.

  2. Really interesting thoughts, Steve, thanks for the insight.

  3. […] are having some success with Malbec. In countries as diverse as Australia, South Africa and Argentina’s close rival Chile, some good wines are now being made. But these wines are as yet few and far between, and fewer […]

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