‘‘One’s first impression is of grapes everywhere,’’ a visitor to the Argentine
wine belt reported in 1942, ‘‘numerous bodegas (wineries) . . . and everything—
houses, fences, stores, factories, even the provincial capitol—built of adobe
brick.’’∞ Timeless as this landscape might have seemed, it was a recent creation.
The Spanish had planted vines when they arrived in the neighboring prov-
inces of San Juan and Mendoza, but wine had become the engine of the local
economy only in the last sixty years, after the completion of the railroad from
Buenos Aires, over a thousand kilometers to the east.≤
The rise of the wine industry was swift and impressive, but also unbal-
anced, and brutal. It was the product of politics as much as ecology, the
regional variant of the national liberal project first articulated by the great San
Juan intellectual Domingo Sarmiento in the 1840s. Sarmiento had argued in
Facundo, a foundational text for liberals across Latin America, that the iso-
lation and ‘‘barbarism’’ of the Argentine interior could only be redeemed
through ‘‘civilization’’ by force. He advocated decisive action to subdue the
‘‘barbarous’’ masses and introduce the commerce, agriculture, railways, immi-
grants, and schools that might eventually make them into a worthwhile citi-
zenry. In 1852, Sarmiento’s allies overthrew Juan Manuel de Rosas, a strong-
man who had dominated national politics for a generation. Sarmiento went
on to serve as a general, governor, minister, ambassador, and finally president,
as his political generation enacted much of the liberal program, turning the
country from a backwater into an economic powerhouse.≥
As Sarmiento had imagined, the greatest benefits of the liberal project
accrued to Buenos Aires and its surrounding plains, the Pampas, which be-
came the heartland of export agriculture. The cities and countryside of this
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