by Fred McMillin
for April 30, 1999


Winery of the Week

A Desert Alert


Balbi Vineyard Mendoza, Argentina's best wine district, is a desert region, receiving only eight to ten inches of rain per year.

The Rest of the Story

The Spanish solved the water problem some four hundred years ago, establishing an intricate series of canals, carrying water from snow melting in the towering Andes to the west. So there was sufficient water to grow over half the wine vines in all of South America. However, there's been another problem in modern times...the half billion gallons of wine produced annually was of very modest quality. Improvement was stymied by such factors as national laws requiring the use of Argentinian products and equipment, no French or American oak barrels, for example. ...N.Y. Times.

Less than four years ago the Wine Enthusiast reported that the combination of

    l) Exciting Experimentation,
    2) The Lavish Investment and
    3) Foreign Know-How that's pushing neighboring Chile forward "are conspicuously lacking in Mendoza."
However, things are changing fast. For example...

Investment—Don Juan Balbi founded his Mendoza winery-vineyard in 1930. The famous Spanish family name of Domecq appeared in 1992. Allied Domecq has brought in modern destemmers, bladder presses, temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks, French and American oak, etc.

Experimentation—Clones of Chardonnay, etc. have arrived from France, Australia and California. Now, there's no phylloxera problem in Mendoza, so grapes can grow on their own rootstock. Nevertheless, Balbi is exploring various other rootstock in the search for the best.

Foreign Know-How—California's Clos du Bois winery is advising. Their Steve Smit is consulting regarding vine-spacing, irrigation alternatives, etc. Winemaker Margaret Davenport is helping put all those new oak barrels to work. So, watch for the colorful Balbi label, now appearing at your local wine shop.

Just the Facts

Balbi Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina
Importer—Allied Domecq, U.S.A.
Wines—They're just coming in. Start with the medium-bodied Malbec red, Argentina's best varietal. About $13.
Vineyards—They are high and dry...on plateaus 3,000 ft., high give or take a 1,000. Spring starts around our Halloween, and there's very little precipitation during the growing season. Winter arrives about the time we're watching the 4th of July fireworks.
For More Info—Office of Dan Solomon, Director of Public Relations, (707) 433-8268, Fax (707) 433-3538.


Another feather in the cap of Mendoza. It is said to make about 90% of the nation's exportable wine.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin


Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.


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The Rise of Napa

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Aging Pinot Noir

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My Grgich Problem

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Benchlands Ain't Badlands

A Dessert Alert

Age Is All The Rage

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All In The Family

A Titanic Pick

An All-Pro Pinot

Happy Birthday,
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No Deadwood At Kenwood

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Whitehall Stands Tall

Lorenzo The Magnificent

Where Cot Hits The Spot

A Valley Named Edna

Mama Mia, It's Oltenia

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Happy Birthday, Charlemagne

April Fool!


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