MENDOZA, Argentina -- The wineries tucked beneath the Andean mountains nearly have it all: warm days and cool nights for growing the lushest of grapes, state-of-the-art technology, and vintners bent on lifting Argentina's wine to rival the best.
Australia, France, the United States, and even neighboring Chile still far outpace Argentina, but more than $1.5 billion in investments this decade to overhaul wineries and lift standards -- coupled with a tightly focused marketing campaign -- are producing a big international buzz about this country's up-and-coming grapes.
Argentina exported almost $400 million in wines and grape juice concentrates to more than 70 countries in 2005, the second record after surpassing $305 million in exports in 2004, the country's Institute of Wine reported.
Now almost 900 wineries in vineyards around Mendoza, 640 miles west of Buenos Aires, and more than 300 wineries elsewhere in Argentina are exploring ways to combine new wine blends for fickle and demanding wine aficnados the world over.
They are also fine-tuning existing flagship reds like the Malbec vine, a variety brought by European immigrants in the 1880s that thrived here and that put Argentina on the winemaking map. And they are talking of ramping up bigger export numbers in 2006, principally to US and European markets, but also to Africa and Asia.
In the early 1990s, Argentina threw open a state-oriented economy to globalization, forcing traditional winemakers to seek markets abroad.
Now dozens of entrepreneurial winemakers, such as Walter Bressia, 49, with large traditional wineries and vintners from France and Spain are revitalizing Argentina's grapes.
Many are overhauling vineyards by planting new varieties, improving irrigation and harvesting, and upgrading fermenting, aging and bottling methods.
''We've already shown the world that Argentina is capable of producing pleasing wines at a reasonable price," Bressia said. ''Now Argentina must consolidate its position as a maker of wines of great prestige . . . we can make the highest-quality wines."
Quality winemakers, specialists say, are erasing last century's image of Argentine wineries as sleepy ventures with a reputation for unadventurous and often overripe table wines dished up to a large, captive domestic market. Old barrels and even ancient Ford trucks used for hauling wines to local markets are now museum pieces at shops here.
Whether it's Bressia's small winery or the sprawling plants of far bigger wineries like Familia Zuccardi, not far away, the watchword is quality control.
Amid snipping sounds of metal shears removing grapes from vines at the Zuccardi vineyards, the start of the annual Vendimia wine festival is gearing up: hundreds of workers are loading truckloads of grapes into wine presses. The smell of wafting champagne from fermenting vats smells like a big New Year's Eve hangover -- as other scents of vine varieties such as Syrah and Chardonnay waft overhead.
''In 1992, Argentina exported less than 1 percent of its harvest. In 2005, we are exporting in values above 16 percent. Today Argentina is seen as a country of the new world of winemaking . . . and its wines are very appetizing on the international markets," said José Alberto Zuccardi, director of the Familia Zuccardi shop, started by his father in the 1950s.
Many wineries were able to import advanced European equipment for the 11 years in which Argentina's peso was pegged by law at 1-to-1 with the dollar.
Manuel Louzada, the winemaking director at the big Bodegas Chandon plant in Luján de Cuyo, said the combination of European standards and bountiful local vineyards, along with the infusion of know-how are closing the gap between potential and what can be realized.