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History of Mendoza

Learn Spanish in Mendoza

Ancient Inhabitants

Evidence points to Mendoza originally having been inhabitted by Nomadic tribes who developed over the centuries into sophisticated hunters and gatherers, eventually starting to use agricultural techniques and craftwork. Artifacts such as stone tools and utensils, basketwork, agricultural tools, pottery and ceramics have been found to back this theory up. By 700 A.D. this nomadic civilisation began to make contact with other cultures and became influenced by tribes such as the Tiahuahaca and eventually between 1450 and 1550 the Incas as well.

The Arrival of the Spaniards

Following the arrival of the Spaniards, the city of Mendoza was founded in 1561 by Pedro de Castillo, who originally named it 'Mendoza del Nuevo Valle de la Rioja'. Before this period, the city had been inhabited by three tribes, The Huarpes, the Puelches and the Incas. The Huarpes were a very industrial tribe and developed a lot of the irrigation and drainage systems present in the area. In fact, what the Spaniards thought to be a river, and on the banks of which they chose to found the city, was in fact an irrigation canal dug by the Huarpes people. There was slow population growth in the city up until the year 1600, but following this slave labour and the influence of the Jesuits in the city began to attract more people and the city grew more prosperous. Agriculture began to increase as the people began to use some of the water collected by the canal and there was also an increase in trade within Argentina that helped jump start the economy of the city.

Mendoza was also the site of the organisation of the army by General José de San Martín that defeated the Spaniards to liberate Chile and Peru. However, all of the improvements being made to the city were unfortunately to prove worthless as an earthquake hit Mendoza in 1861, killing around 5000 people. The city was rebuilt and in a manner that would prevent such grave damage should another earthquake strike in the future.

Modern day Mendoza is a city in a region blessed with outstanding natural beauty, magnificent mountains and famous vineyards. Tourism, the wine making industry, and most recently the exploitation of uranium and oil have all collaborated to make Mendoza an important cultural and economical city within Argentina.

Wine Culture in Mendoza

Mendoza is mad about wine. Walking through the streets you will see shop window displays decorated with rich red bottles of Malbec and bunches of plastic grapes, be it a food store or a knicker shop, a bottle of wine is always relevant here.

The beginning of the culture of wine making in Mendoza can be traced back to around 1556 when Spanish Priest Juan Cidrón brought and implanted the first vines from Chile. Following this, in 1580 local merchants and traders took advantage and began to develop the art of wine making in Mendoza. The Church also began to cultivate vines to provide wine for mass.

Things began to step up when in 1852 Governor Sarimiento initiated the importation of French vines and set up a sort of training farm to teach the techniques of viticulture, differentiating between the original 'criollas' indigenous varieties and the new varieties brought over from France. The first sign of success of the wines in this region of Argentina came when one of the new French varieties elaborated in Mendoza won third prize in the wine exhibition at the World Fair held in Paris in the year 1889. By 1944 there were over 250,000 vines in the Mendoza region and at least half, if not more, were of the Malbec variety, a dark purple grape which gives a robust tasting wine. Due to ease of growth and a huge increase in the consumption of wine in Buenos Aires the production rate increased, but it was generally wine of a low quality that was being produced, made from the local 'criollo' grapes. It was then that the INTA or National Institute of Agricultural Techniques set about controlling the chaos that had become the mixture of grape varieties in the region. Meanwhile wine consumption continued to rise steadily, having almost too much success, resulting in an overproduction.

Recognising the originality and popularity of the Malbec variety of wine being produced in Mendoza and also experiencing a fall in national consumption, Argentina started to export the wine to foreign markets around the year 1996. Around this same time the Government reduced many restrictions in place on external trade and additionally outsiders began to arrive, bringing with them new and more modern techniques and machinery for the production of wine.

Following the 2002 economic crisis in Argentina they began to appreciate the foreign market more than ever and this is more or less when they truly began to exploit it. Nowadays it is clear for anyone throughout the world to see, if they take a look in the wine section of their local supermarket, that the pleasant Malbec taste combined with both the new technology used in the Mendoza region as well as the traditional roots of wine making make for a true Argentine wine success story.

Mendoza has a history and culture as rich as the robust red Malbec wine produced in the region. Be sure you leave some time aside from studying Spanish in Mendoza in order to see the city and of course, try a glass of its most famous export!