In the Mendoza winegrowing region of Argentina, the vineyards of Tupungato and Vista Flores sit some 1,200 meters above sea level.
Yet they seem like they’re in Death Valley when compared to the vineyards of Altura Maxima, three hours northwest of Cafayate in the Salta region. There, Bodegas Colome’s grapevines at El Arenal sit at a staggering height of 3,111 meters. (For the metrically challenged, like yours truly, 3,000 meters equates with 9,840 feet.) You will not find a commercial vineyard at a higher elevation anywhere in the world.
Salta is in extreme northern Argentina, along the border with Bolivia. Indeed, “extreme” also could be used to describe the winemaking, which takes place not only at the highest altitudes, but also among the lowest latitudes.
The terrain, obviously, is mountainous, and just getting to Salta can be a somewhat harrowing experience. But for those who don’t mind white-knuckle rides, the reward—amazing scenery that has been described as “otherworldly”—is well worth it.
And the scenery is just part of the reward. The wines of Salta are equally amazing, noted for their clean profile, fresh fruit flavors and engaging personalities—all thanks, of course, to the wonderful winegrapes that ripen to perfection in the region’s myriad of microclimates.
It begins with the soil, which is amazingly similar to that found in Mendoza: sandy topsoil over a clay base. Then there’s the rainfall: very limited, which serves to protect the vines from damage. Still, there’s abundant water to nourish the vines, arriving in the form of melted snow from the even higher elevations.
Vines produce the highest-quality grapes when they receive plenty of sunshine and warmth by day, then are allowed to cool down and rest by night. In Salta, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 100 degrees during the summer months, then drop back to as low as 55 after the sun goes down.
Add it all up, and you have an environment that is welcoming to a wide array of winegrapes, from Argentina’s acclaimed Malbec and Torrontes, to “international” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot.
Now, more than a decade into the 21st century, it’s safe to say that winemaking in the Salta region of Argentina has reached new heights—figuratively and literally.