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Wine Regions Travel Guide

Places To Explore In Wine Regions

In the center of Argentina, in the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan, melting snow from the Andes flows into rivers, streams, and underground aquifers, and transforms this semi-arid region into the largest area under irrigation in Argentina. Eighty percent of the country's wine is produced here, as are olive oil, garlic, and a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.

Argentina is the world's fifth-largest

wine producer; in Mendoza alone, more than 200,000 hectares (494,200 acres) of vineyards bask in the sun from the suburbs of Mendoza City south through the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley) to San Rafael. The grapes are protected from the humid winds of the Pacific by the Andes, and grow at altitudes between 609 and 1,524 meters (2,000 to 5,000 feet), where they ripen slowly during long, hot summer days and cool nights and maintain acidity for long-lasting taste. Since there's little rain, irrigation of the mineral-rich snowmelt is controlled, and pests are minimal. Indeed, many vineyards could be classified as organic, as chemicals are seldom used or needed.

This wine-growing region is often referred to as the Cuyo—a name passed down from the early indigenous Huarpe people, who called it Cuyum Mapu (Land of Sand). Acéquias (canals) built by the Huarpes and improved upon by the conquering Incas and Spaniards, as well as by modern engineers, continue to capture the flow of the region's great rivers and channel it along the shady streets of the regions major cities: Mendoza, San Juan, and San Rafael.

Jesuit missionaries crossed the Andes from Chile to plant the first grape vines in 1556, followed by Spanish settlers who founded the city of Mendoza in 1561 and San Juan a year later. At that time the Cuyo was part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. Most of the area was cattle country, and ranchers drove their herds over the Andes to markets in Santiago. Although the Cuyo became part of the eastern Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, the long, hard journey across the country by horse cart to Buenos Aires kept the region economically and more culturally tied to Chile until 1884, when the railroad from Buenos Aires reached Mendoza.

The area is known not only for its wine but also for its outdoor activities. River rafting, horseback riding, and hiking in the highest range of the Andes, including Aconcagua, soaking in thermal baths, and skiing at Las Leñas and Penitentes, attract people year-round. In addition, one of the world's richest paleontological areas—the Parque Provincial Ischigualasto in San Juan Province—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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