Stories from the Southern Sky

champagne constellation

Looking up to the skies and gazing at the stars is a lot different in the Southern Hemisphere compared to North America, Europe and the rest of the world. Many constellations and objects can only be viewed by travelling south of the equator. Several of these constellations were officially named by European scientists in an age of exploration following the voyages of Columbus in 1492 but have since gone on to hold huge significance across Latin America.

One of the most prominent constellations in the sky is Orion, which is visible throughout the world as it is located on the celestial equator. The three brightest stars of the constellation – Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, commonly known as Orion’s Belt – are known as Las tres Marías (The Three Marys) in Spain and most of Latin America. According to various Catholic countries such as Argentina, these are the women who went to the tomb of Jesus carrying a broom, a thurible and an alabaster chalice.

Despite being the smallest of the 88 modern constellations, Crux has had arguably the biggest influence in the Southern Hemisphere thanks to its distinctive asterism known as the Southern Cross. The brightest Crux stars famously appear on the flags of Australia, New Zealand and Brazil as well as numerous Argentine provincial emblems including Tierra del Fuego and Santa Cruz. The Argentine Air Force acrobatic display team Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross) also pay homage to this magnificent constellation. What’s more, the 2,316-line poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández, which praises the gauchos’ contribution to Argentina’s development, also references Crux, as it is used for night orientation in Pampas and Patagonia. You’ll also see the Crux depicted in many wineries in Mendoza, and O Fournier name their wines after the constellation.

Along with Crux, Carina is another southern circumpolar constellation, which can be seen all year round. Its name is Latin for the keel of a ship and was originally part of Argo Navis, a huge boat in the night sky. Many civilisations believed this was the ship of Jason and the Argonauts while others believed it belong to Menelaus, husband of Helen or Troy. The ancient Egyptians even believed the ship belonged to Osiris and Isis. But ever since Argo Navis was broken up into four different constellations, it is difficult to see how Carina resembles the shape of a ship. Nevertheless, it still remains one of the most beautiful and remarkable constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly for one winemaker in Mendoza.

After moving to Argentina for work in 1998, Philippe and Brigitte Subra decided against returning to their native France as the lure of Mendoza’s people, surroundings and of course wine was too good to leave behind. Although they always had plans to return one day, in 2003 they came across an old winery in Cruz de Piedra, Maipú and decided to give it a go. While Philippe admits wine was never a big passion, his hobby of astronomy would undoubtedly play a role in the bodega’s development. “When we started the company, we had no idea what to call it but even less of an idea about wine,” he says. “But because of my hobby, we looked for names linked with the sky. We found the name of Carina, which is a very nice constellation of the southern sky.”

By Christopher Davies