In my first article on Malbec, I talked about how the Malbec grape made its way from France to Argentina in the latter part of the 1800s. In this article, I’ll start with the early success of Argentinian Malbec and follow that up with some sad news.
Malbec’s resilience enabled it to grow beautifully in the severe Argentinean climate and soil. As was the case with almost all Argentinian wine grapes, Argentinian Malbec escaped the Phylloxera epidemic of the mid-1800s.
Malbec’s rise to fame in Argentina was further accelerated by a decimating frost in France in 1956 that killed almost all of that country’s Malbec vines. Argentina was able to take advantage of France’s misfortune, stepping up to become a major producer of choice. By 1970, there were 150,000 acres of Malbec grapes.
It appeared that Malbec’s success and eternal life were assured. But wait…
Economic tough times in Argentina were not kind to Malbec. People started drinking less red wine and began to turn to cheap whites and beer. Wine growers were forced to compete with these new market dynamics, and drastic measures were taken. The most infamous measure was the Argentinean Vine Pull of the 1980s. Grape producers united in pulling almost 95% of all Malbec acreage, reducing the total number of acres at the time to a mere 10,000.
Just about as soon as they had completed this decimation, they realized that they had made a huge mistake. Somewhere, somehow, people realized that the lowly, underappreciated and good-enough-only-for-blending Malbec was absolutely outstanding when it was grown in Argentina! Growers also realized how outstanding their Malbec was for export. So the push to replant was on almost as soon as the Vine Pull ended.
Today, the growing acreage is back up around 25,000 acres. Better, but still far short of its peak.
Next time: The modern Argentinean Malbec!