Bodegas Salentein shares a rich history that parallels the settlement of Argentina by Spanish and Italian immigrants. By the 17th century, Salentein was part of an estancia called De Arriba that belonged to the Jesuits, who were the first to successfully cultivate the vine in Mendoza. The ruins of the original Jesuit farmhouse called Casa Grande are still part of Salentein’s property. They lay surrounded by a grove of trees that were planted by the early missionaries, at nearly 5,000 feet upon sea level.
Salentein is a well endowed, privately held estate whose wines are as impressive as its modern winery. In addition to employing Michel Rolland, France’s most sought after enologist; Salentein occupies a prime location in the foothills of the towering Andes. Its vines soar to 5,600 feet, which makes them some of the loftiest vineyards in the world, The winery itself is built in a shape of a cross and is surrounded by the estate’s four fincas or properties. Each of the four wings of the winery contains its own small winery with two distinct sections: the first at ground level houses stainless steel tanks, while the second lies 8 meters underground and is used for maturing the estate’s wine in oak casks. The four wineries meet in a central chamber that resembles an amphitheater where they share a common bottling facility. Pretty smart thinking we would say.
Bodegas Salentein specializes in the cultivation and production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Malbec – Argentina’s specialty. Unlike most other Argentine wineries, Salentein is devoted entirely to premium production, which is evident in the estate’s wines.
The Andes are the tallest mountains in the Western Hemisphere, dwarfing the Rockies and the Sierras with their sheer magnitude. However, the Andes are more than a geologic mass, they are a mystical experience. They cast their shadows and mysteries upon the present day population of South America as they did the ancient Pre-Columbian peoples who inhabited their lower reaches.
Without the towering Andes, there would be no cultivation of the vine in Mendoza and no real agriculture as we know it, nor would viticulture thrive in the river valleys of central Chile, which lie just across the Andean spine or Cordillera from Mendoza – a mere one hundred miles as the condor flies, but still a torturous eight hour adventure by car. Simply, it is the Andes that give life to the desert like Mendoza and the arid rift valleys of Chile. Specifically, it is Andean snows that accumulate upon the higher elevations of the Andes that give life and sustenance to these parched parcels of South America that yield the continent’s finest wines.
In order to make the desert bloom, the inhabitants of the Andes have come to rely on their mighty mountains for water. By sluicing off the Andean snow melt and directing its waters into canals, much of Argentina and Chile are now productive farmland and especially suited to the cultivation of the vine. Since the Italian migration to Argentina in the 19th century and subsequent settlement in the Illinois size province of Mendoza, the Mighty Mendoza has become the largest wine producing area in South America, leading Argentina to fifth among the world’s leading wine producing nations just behind the United States. Without the Andes, there would be no wine or much else to speak of from Mendoza. Viva Los Andes!