San Juan is an important Argentinean wine-producing area. Originally a prolific producer of high-yielding pink grape varieties (e.g. Cereza), whose high sugar content made them ideal for blending, San Juan is now producing wines of increasing quality using traditional European grape varieties. Syrah and the ever-present Malbec are the most important of these.
©Wines of Argentina/Garcia Betancourt
The wine region of San Juan covers the administrative area of the same name in the north-western corner of Argentina. The province sits between Mendoza and La Rioja, and is almost entirely contained within the mountainous foothills of the Andes. In terms of production, San Juan is Argentina's second-largest wine region (after Mendoza), with about half of its agricultural land devoted to vineyards. The most important area of production is the Tulum Valley, but other wine regions within San Juan include the Zonda Valley and the high-quality Pedernal Valley.
Like Mendoza, the San Juan region is predominantly semi-desert, and its viticulture is dependent on irrigation from the San Juan and Jachal rivers. Because they are at the mercy of a very dry continental climate, many vineyards also rely on the meltwater flowing down from the Andes mountain range to the west. What little precipitation the region does get, falls mainly during the storms which are common during the summer months.
In common with other Argentinean wine regions, San Juan is both helped and hindered by the Zonda, a hot, dry wind that develops in the rainshadow of the Andes. The wind is such a feature of the region that one of San Juan's three sub-regions – the Zonda Valley – is named after it.
As in Mendoza, San Juan's vineyards are located at a relatively high average altitude, with the lowest at around 2000ft (600m) and the highest at 4000ft (1200m) above sea level.
San Juan is home to Bonarda, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah for red wines, and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes and Viognier for white wines. It also produces a large quantity of Criolla and Cereza grapes, which are generally used to make cheaper, slightly sweet wines. Additionally, the region produces sherry-style wines and provides most of the base for Argentina's brandy and vermouth.