San Juan

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San Juan was founded in 1562 as part of the Chilean viceroyalty. On January 18, 1817, General José de San Martín gathered his army of 16,000 men in the town's plaza and set out on his historic 21-day march over the Andes to Chile, where he defeated the royalist army at the battles of Chacabuco and Maipú.

San Juan has been producing wine since 1569, though it wasn't until the 1890s, when Graffigna and other major wineries put down roots here, that production increased. At that point wineries began offering varieties other than the sweet white table wines, sherries, and ports that the area had been known for.

A 1944 earthquake destroyed San Juan (but helped to establish Juan Perón as a national figure through his relief efforts, which won him much popularity). A second earthquake in 1977 was as devastating. The low-rise buildings, tree-lined plazas, and pedestrian walkways you see today are the results of reconstruction. The streets and plazas of this easygoing agricultural town are shady, and the city is further cooled by Spanish-built canals that still run beneath the streets.

San Juaninos enjoy sharing their knowledge with visitors. In fact, you're often greeted at bodegas by the owner or a member of the family. In 2004 the tourist office and guide association formed a commission to evaluate wineries for membership in the Ruta del Vino de San Juan. Members guarantee knowledgeable personnel, tasting rooms, public restrooms, and reasonable hours. Eight wineries joined, and their booklet with maps is available at the tourist office.