According to the latest ProMendoza stats, fine wine production in the region has more than doubled just since 1996, while bulk wine, sold in Argentine supermarkets in small cardboard cartons, has correspondingly dwindled by half. Clearly, something is happening in Argentine wine. But numbers alone don't tell the whole story. For that, you have to fly into Mendoza for a first-hand look, as I did recently.
Mendoza isn't yet a tourist mecca like Napa Valley, but it well repays a visit. Vineyards spill down from the towering Andes and there's a crispness in the air that stems, partially, from the dry, desertlike conditions and partly from the excitement of a new industry growing before one's eyes. An ideal season to visit is September through November, which is springtime in the Southern Hemisphere, and you'll avoid the sometimes torrid summer heat. Avoid harvest season, which begins in late February, since the wineries and their staff will be preoccupied with wine production. If you like winter sports, plan your visit in late June through August: It will be cold in Mendoza, but there's phenomenal skiing nearby at resorts such as Las Leñas. Regardless of the timing of a visit, don't wait another season to try the region's wines.
At Bodega Catena Zapata, hospitality center of the Catena wine group, I'm met by Laura Catena. Laura is an Argentine native with the easy, sophisticated stylishness of Buenos Aires about her, but she also has a Harvard education and now makes her home in San Francisco, where she and her husband are both emergency room physicians at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. Remarkably, she still finds time to act as the chief spokesperson for Catena wines.