Bolivia has a rich wine producing heritage which dates back to the 17th century. Bolivia’s wine grapes grow between roughly 1600m - 3000m above sea-level. In contrast, most wine-producing regions grow grape vines on average below 500m. This combined area of high altitude vineyards makes Bolivia the highest wine producing region in the world.
Tarija is the main city of the province of the same name, with 200,000 inhabitants. Situated in a wide, fertile valley on the edge of the Guadalquivir River (named by the Spanish conquistadores after the river that flows past Seville), it runs across the south central portion of Bolivia. Tarija sits at an altitude of 1850 - 1950 metres and these high elevations result in the grapes getting more sunlight, which concentrates the flavours and aroma in wine.
This regions has a Mediterranean style climate during the summer, a region which almost never freezes and strong winds (which prevent the grapes from baking in the sun) and you have an ideal location for wine-production. Another unique factor with regards high elevation, the effect encourages wine to age faster. Some winemakers claim a two year Bolivian wine is similar to a six year old wine from another country in terms of development.
There are numerous valleys in Bolivia where wine has been traditionally produced for more than 300 years. The most important wine regions today which cover some 3,000 hectares and are divided into: - Central Valley of Tarija with 2,400 hectares of vineyards between 1600 to 2150 meters above sea level - Valley of Los Cintis with 300ha at 2220 - 2414m, the Valleys of Santa Cruz with 100ha at 1600 - 2030m, and various valleys in Potosí, La Paz and Cochabamba with around 200 hectares between 1600 and 3000m. It should be mentioned that all of Bolivia’s 3000ha of vineyards are 100% harvested by hand. Even though the vineyards in Bolivia are located between 17.0º and 21.53º latitude south of the Equator and above the typical viticultural belt of the southern hemisphere, the climate is temperate and semi-arid due to the high altitudes.
The main varietals planted in the central Valley of Tarija are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Tannat, Garnacha and Barbera for red wines and Muscat of Alexandria, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Franc Colombard and Chenin Blanc for white wines. A little over 90% of the total grape production in Bolivia is in the Central Valley of Tarija. As a result, 5.7 million litres of wine or 97% of all the Bolivian wine is produced in Tarija by about 25 wineries of which 6 wineries produce the majority of the wine. With 4 wineries production of 4 million litres of Singani (the local brandy).
The Central Valley of Tarija is located in the southern part of Bolivia bordering with Argentina between the latitudes 21.20º and 21.58º south. Most of the vineyards are concentrated in the provinces of Aviles and Cercado with small vineyards in the provinces of Arce and Mendez.
Irrigation water comes from the rivers Camacho, Guadalquivir and Santa Ana as well as from the San Jacinto dam that is fed by the Tolomosa River. Further downstream, all of these rivers merge into the Tarija River, which is part of the basin of La Plata.
Bolivia may be the country with the highest vineyard surface in the world. But it was in 1993, after discovering the subtle differences in its wine quality due to these unusual altitudes, when the industry developed the concept of ‘High Altitude Wines’, a character that positions their wine as a unique expression in the world.
Bolivia’s ancestral viticultural traditions remain alive and well, with vines of up to 300 years old are still in production, mainly around Schinus molle trees. This is in keeping with the old colonial vines training system - every year the trees are severely pruned to improve sunlight for the vines, which grow around the trunk and branches of the tree, reminding Bolivia’s and the world of our viticultural history.