Argentina and the Mighty Mendoza Argentina has long been one of the world's leading producers and consumers of wine. Presently, this sprawling nation, containing some of the world's most diverse geography: tropical jungle, barren desert, towering snow-capped mountains and windswept deserted islands that herald Antarctica, is the world' fifth largest producer of wine and the planet's third largest consumer of the fruit of the vine, placing it just behind Italy and France. It was the Jesuits, with a fervor for faith matched only by their desire to cultivate the seeds of civilization, who first brought the vine to the land of the pampas in the 16th century. Father Cedron, a Jesuit missionary from Spanish Mexico, is believed to have planted the first vineyard in what is now Argentina in 1556. His early plantings survive as the Criollas grape variety, producing light red and rose wines. Once the most widely cultivated grape varietal in Argentina, the ancient Criolla is now giving way to Chardonnay, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and most importantly, Malbec. Although Argentina acknowledges its viticultural debt to the early Spaniards who settled it, the modern tale of Argentine wine really begins with the Italian migration of the late 19th century. Settling in the dry Mendoza at the base of the Andes, these Italian immigrants began to sluice the snow waters from the mountains out over the vineyards, causing the desert to bloom. In less than a century, the Mendoza, a state approximately the size of Illinois, has become Argentina's leading wine producing region, accounting for the vast majority of the nation's production and more than half of all the wine made in South America. Driven by Argentina's seemingly insatiable thirst, as well as the burgeoning worldwide demand for wine, particularly well-made reds, the "Mighty Mendoza" now comprises some 700,000 acres of vines, and is still growing. The vast majority of wine from the arid, nearly insect-free environment of Mendoza is red, and happily the quality of these wines continues to grow exponentially. The recent attention to quality is much to the delight of North American consumers astute enough to notice the myriad of fine Mendoza offerings and not hold the region's previous viticultural history of favoring quantity over quality against it. Since the early 1980's, political stability along with the infusion of money and talent from abroad has transformed the Mendoza. With the likes of Paul Hobbs, Jacques and Francois Lurton and now Marco de Grazia, this most recent wave of immigrants and investors is sure to transform this sleepy giant into a treasure trove of fine wine.