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Cafayate’s Vineyards, “Sold Out”

By: Gabriela Malizia y Soledad Gonzalez

There were no vineyard purchases in this region, just because none is for sale. There, a hectare of uncultivated land costs about USD 10,000. The great potential of this region’s wines appeals more and more to investors.

The area cultivated with vineyards in Cafayate is growing 10% every year in the last five years. This development is over the average of Salta, where, according to INV (National Institute of Viticulture), the percentage of new vineyards development has been 19% during the past 8 years, deducting the age of plants.

Vineyard restructuring in Cafayate was mostly oriented toward red grapes, mainly Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Tannat -which is enjoying a boom in the region- and other new varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Bonarda and Pinot Noir, generally used for blends.

An important data, provided by some agronomists who were consulted, is that last year the demand for Malbec seedling in the region was so great that nurseries ran out of stock.

From Torrontés to red grapes

In the past 15 years, several old Torrontés vines were grafted with red grape varieties. Others were pulled up and replaced with Malbec. Nowadays, Torrontés covers around 50% of the total production of the region.

At the end of 2010 harvest period, the figures provided by INV show that Salta housed 289 vineyards extending over more than 2,296 cultivated hectares, accounting for 1% of the country’s total planted area. Of this amount, 1,003 hectares were grown with white grapes.

Although this is no mean amount, the export boom of the white signature variety makes winegrowers be sorry they got rid of those old vines of great value at the present time. However, according to Marcos Etchart, one of the owner of “San Pedro de Yacochuya” and member of one of the family with greater experience in Salta wine industry, “Torrontés was worthless for a long time; in this business, it is so difficult to predict the future.”

Which way will Cafayate extend to?

“In Cafayate, there is no enough space to go on extending. This is mainly due to the lack of water and available lands. Chimpa and Tolombón, located in Cafayate, are the regions housing the larger number of new ventures. Some companies from Mendoza like Catena Zapata, invested in Tolombón, where it is cultivating 10 ha of Torrontés every year. There, the value per hectare went from USD 3,000 to 5,000 in the last two years. In Chimpa, in the lower part of the valley, water is plentiful, but soil contains boron, and this implies hard work to avoid affecting the vines”, explained Marcos Etchart.

Currently, the hectare of land costs USD 10,000, but no purchase is recorded.

“It is so difficult to buy a plot of land in Cafayate, due to the lack of available land and water -added Marcos Etchart. As we don’t have great rivers, we use slope water. Groundwater contains water, but it is not plentiful. Moreover, due to an inadequate legislation, it is allowed to drill anywhere, making deep wells and damaging dangerously groundwater”, he alerted.

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