By Elizabeth Zanoni

Wine provides a great example of how Italians influenced the industries, environments, and cultures of both their home and host countries. Spanish colonizers first introduced grapes native to the Mediterranean to Latin America, often for sacramental purposes. However, it was not until the late nineteenth century that Italians, Argentines, and other immigrants in Mendoza and San Juan developed an Argentine wine industry. Immigrants also drank imported wine from Italy. Their love of Italian wines stimulated trade and helped modernize the Italian wine industry back home.

In the sixteenth century, Spanish colonizers and missionaries carried their wine-drinking traditions and Mediterranean grape varietals to Latin America. Wine production remained rather modest until agriculturalists – amongst whom there were many Italians – in Mendoza and San Juan successfully experimented with imported European grape vines in the late nineteenth century. They would build what would soon become one of country’s most important agricultural sectors. Antonio and Domingo Tomba, two Venetian immigrants, established the Domingo Tomba winery in Mendoza in 1882. It became the largest winery in Argentina, offering poor immigrants, accustomed to small amounts of wine with their meals, table wine at modest prices.

Newspaper advertisement for Argentine Tomba Wine, 1919.
Source: Advertisement for Argentine Tomba Wine, La Patria degli Italiani (Buenos Aires) September 20, 1919, 2.

At the same time, however, Italians in Argentina also desired Italian wines native to their home regions. Their love of Italian wines, from Piedmont in the North to Sicily in the South, supported very profitable trade routes overseen by Italian merchants. One of the wealthiest wine merchants was Sicilian immigrant Francesco Jannello, a former sea captain in the merchant marine and Italian Royal Navy. Jannello sold Italian wines, especially the wines of Palermo-based winemaker I.V. Florio, in his store in Buenos Aires.

Newspaper advertisement for Italian Florio-brand Marsala wine, sold by Francesco Jannello in Buenos Aires, 1915.
Source: Advertisement for Italian Florio-brand Marsala wine, La Patria degli Italiani (Buenos Aires), March 14, 1915, 10.

Merchants like Jannello worried about growing competition posed by Argentine wines and wines imported from other Mediterranean nations. They lobbied the Argentine government against high taxes on imported wine and they urged the Italian government to pass laws regulating, protecting, and modernizing the Italian wine industry back home. However, merchants were largely unsuccessful in their attempts to protect Italian wine imports. By the 1920s Argentine production dominated Argentina’s wine consumption, even while this now thoroughly nationalized industry was greatly influenced by the agricultural and business expertise of Italians and by the wine cultures that Italian migrants brought with them.

The history of wine in Argentina reveals how porous the boundaries were between Italian and Argentine culture, cuisine, and industry; Italian and Argentine wines were advertised in both the Italian and Spanish-language press to Italians, Argentines, and consumers from other backgrounds, and merchants often sold both Italian and Argentine wines.

Further reading