There has been an incredible amount of foreign investment in Mendoza’s Valle de Uco, about 100 kilometers south of Mendoza, Argentina. It is a recent creation of a wine tourism region out of sand and rock, and a great example of the different forms that vineyards and wine-making can take in the present day. Many would refer to this as the recent impact of globalization, but globalization is actually not a recent phenomenon. For it to happen, it first took a sense of place to release the forces of globalization, and that was in the form of permanent settlements during the Neolithic Period (or New Stone Age), a mere 11,500 years ago, or about 9,500 BCE, give or take.
The Neolithic was important to humans, because it was when we started to domesticate animals and crops, and humans started to trend away from nomadism and into permanent settlements. This was important to grapes because not only could you grow them in a domesticated fashion in one place, it also took that same permanent location in which to ferment them – hard to do when you are nomadic and moving a lot. An additional bonus was that when you were permanently settled, you were much easier to find – so when you had surpluses (which you could now store more easily) you could also trade what you had. Grapes and wine benefitted from all of those conditions.
Mendoza shows these waves of “globalization,” as they relate to wine. On the one hand you have early permanent indigenous settlements fermenting grains in regions of Mendoza, or in proximity to it. You then have the introductions grapes during the colonial period, both as a part of conquest and for religious regions – the latter for communion wine, about 450 years ago. Later, a strong influence of immigrants from wine producing countries, especially Italy and Spain, from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. And now, given the economy you are seeing a lot of investment from abroad.
The Vines, in the Valle de Uco, as well as surrounding vineyards, are indicative of the latest form of globalization. The success of the marketing of Argentina’s Malbec, and cheap land, has attracted foreign investors. The Vines, attracts investors who can buy a certain amount of hectares from which to make their wines, and the services provided range from the entire vineyard to bottle process, to owners who establish bodegas who staff it for themselves. Most of the region’s vineyards, The Vines and other local vineyards, are young – all planted in the last 15 years. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, and some whites in the form of Sémillon, as well as some Chardonnay and Torrontés. What cannot be grown there are often brought in from other areas of Mendoza for blending.
Many of the wines are excellent, and production levels range from 50 thousand liters to 7 million (or probably more), depending on the bodega, the owners and the wine-making philosophy. It is a palate-bending region in which to taste, based on wines made from young vines, in a new and interesting region. And the side conversations on whether or not this contemporary from of globalization is good, bad, or even matters, is almost as varied as the wine itself.