La Rioja province is located between 28° and 32° South latitude and between 66° and 70° West longitude in the North-West region of Argentina. It is divided into 18 departments comprising 5 corridors: Capital, Valleys and Mountains, Caudillos Route, Bermejo Valley and La Rioja’s Mountain Range. The province has a peculiar geography, with an unusual combination of mountains and plains, hills and valleys, where its characteristic ocher color is highlighted by polychromatic plantations.
Geologically, the territory of La Rioja was formed from the Brasilia mountain mass, following an East-West direction. The altitude of the province ranges between 270 meters above sea level in Salinas Grandes and 6,820 meters above sea level in Cerro Bonete. Its relief exhibits mountain chains climbing higher and higher from East to West, resulting in long valleys stretching from North to South with scarce communication among them.
About 48% of the provincial surface is covered by mountain chains, all of which stretch out mostly from North to South. Huge contrasts stand out in the region’s landscapes: high mountains, plains, valleys and other geological formations. The desert prevails in most of them, the exception being the areas where rivers create and sustain several agricultural oases.
La Rioja is the province with the lowest water volume in Argentina. Even though the area used to have a more humid weather, nowadays there is an appalling amount of river beds that remain dry throughout the year, coming to life briefly when overflows occur as a result of summer storms. Underground waters are also dependent on the amount of rainfall, which fluctuates around 300 mm per year, filling the temporary rivers that descend to the valleys and fault pits. The few permanent rivers are Bermejo, Salado -with stable and temporary portions-, Grande de la Rioja, Olta and Anzulón.
The agricultural tradition begun with the arrival of Spanish conquerors, mostly within the two most appropriate locations for this activity: Arauco, where olive trees are grown, and Antinaco Valley, where vineyards are grown. In this second region, Chilecito has developed its own characteristic grape: Torrontés Riojano.
La Rioja’s Wine Route comprises the Famatina Valleys -the major grape production and winemaking area- and the Coast Valleys, with their significant concentration of small-scale undertakings where winemaking is a craft activity.