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History of Chilean Wine

Wine was an unexpected bounty for the Spanish Conquistadors in Chile .

After all, it was not gold and silver that they found when they first arrived here, but fierce natives who halted their thus-far unstoppable conquest train dead on its tracks. So, they settled down at the spots they could hold, and planted the vines they had brought along from the Old World .

And lo…! Superb wines and a particular way of life infused with tradition were soon to sprout from that one simple act. Rich soils, rainy winters and warm, dry summers proved to be the perfect combination for producing some of the best wine grapes in the world.

The French, who have always had a keen nose for good wine, replaced the Spaniards in the winemaking business in Chile during the second half of the 19th century, and brought still finer grapevine stock with them.

Luckily, the Phylloxera pest that wiped out grapevines throughout most of the world -particularly in Europe- in the late 19th century did not affect Chile, the original French grapevine stock still growing today without graft of any kind. In fact, Chilean grapevines were used later to repopulate the French vineyards and, more recently, to lure into this country such savvy international investors such as the Rothschilds or Miguel Torres.

The introduction of Cabernet, Cot / Malbec, Carmenere (at that time one of the principal grapes of the right bank in Bordeaux), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, and others would now begin in earnest, principally fuelled by the those with large fortunes who were traveling to and sending their children for schooling in Europe. With the vines came European experts (principally French owing to the relatively recent independence from Spain ) to tend the vines, make wines, and to build veritable palaces and design the gardens around them. The trans-Atlantic trade of vines and plants was heightened in part due to the European fascination with the exotic plant species of Chile —which they in turn began introducing in Europe . It is important to note that this period occurs just prior to when Phylloxera began to wreak havoc in North America and Europe . This, the greatest of all vineyard pests would never arrive on Chile's shores and the plantings of this epoch would enjoy their own private evolution for the better part of a century before in the 1980's technologies and modern clones would again be imported.
During the time of phylloxera in Europe many in the industry lost their livelihood and a significant brain drain resulted toward the few parts of the world where the vie was not affected. Thus before the Chilean industry would be secluded from the world wine business during two world wars and political policies less than appropriate for the industry, it would first enjoy a veritable injection of old world know-how and expertise.

Wine Today in Chile

Today, wine has become one of Chile 's best ambassadors, making inroads even into such wine fortresses as California , Germany and France . The country boasts over a dozen wineries that have achieved international recognition. Several of them are now over a century old, and most combine traditional methods, such as harvesting by hand, with the latest high-tech wizardry in processing, aging and bottling.

The families who owned-some still own-these vineyards not only had a good taste in wines, but also in beautifying the land surrounding their manor houses: they brought renowned landscape architects from Europe to create some of Chile 's finest private parks. Still well tended, some of these parks are open to the public in arranged tours to the wineries.

The part of Chilean wine history that most affects today's consumer has taken place since the 1970's, when complicated and restrictive domestic policies were repealed and political interventionism was relaxed or eliminated. The law that restricted the wineries was repealed in 1974. From 1980, the legal liberalization and the country's economic opening kicked off a revolution in the wine industry. Again we must credit Spanish influence (a Spaniard more correctly), Miguel Torres, with the introduction of modern technologies and stainless steel tanks that helped initiate this change. The Chilean wine industry outfitted itself with modern machinery and equipment, improved its planting and irrigation technology, incorporated stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels and began to utilize better quality corks and bottles.
Between 1982 and 1983 production reached its peak, coinciding with a significant reduction in domestic consumption. Both factors provoked a crisis of proportions, with a fall in prices and vineyards being replaced with other fruit crops. At the same time, the historic trend of family-owned wineries was replaced by economic groups and corporations, which included international participation, effectively modernizing the business. In the 1990s, Chilean wines consolidated their presence in the international wine business. Today they are exported to 90 countries on 5 continents. Exports to Europe , the United States and particularly to Asia have grown strongly each year, and today register a total of more than US$600 million.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chile has a long history of wine making, going back to the conquistadores who brought grape vines with them in the mid 16th Century and planted vineyards. In the mid 18th century, French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced. However, government decrees prohibited the planting of new vineyards between 1938 and 1974.

Much low quality wine has historically been produced (often from table grapes such as sultanas) and producers have traditionally been more interested in quantity than quality. However, in the early 1980s a renaissance began with the introduction of stainless steel fermenters and the use of oak barrels for ageing. Subsequently, the export business grew very quickly and large amounts of quality wines were produced. The number of wineries has grown from 12 in 1995 to over 70 in 2005. Chile is now the fourth largest exporter of wines to the United States.

The climate has been described as midway between that of California and France. The most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere, which is often regarded as perhaps the most suitable grape for the Chilean climate.


The Republic of Chile defined the following viticultural regions, also known as viticultural zones or appellations:

  • Viticultural Region of Atacama. Within it are two subregions, the Copiapo Valley and the Huasco Valley, both of which are coterminous with the provinces of the same names.
  • Viticultural Region of Coquimbo. It has three subregions: Elqui Valley, Limari Valley, and the Choapa Valley. All subregions are coterminous with the provinces of the same names.
  • Viticultural Region of Aconcagua. It includes two subregions, the Valley of Aconcagua and the Valley of Casablanca, Chile . The Aconcagua Valley is coterminous with the province of that name. The Casablanca Valley is coterminous with the comuna of that name.
  • Viticultural Region of the Central Valle. Within it are four subregions: the Maipo Valley, the Rapel Valley, the Curico Valley and the Maule Valley.
  • Viticultural Region of the South , within it two subregions are included: Itata Valley and Bio-Bio Valley.

Quality wines

In international competitions, Chilean wines have proven to be among the best in the world. For example, in the Berlin Wine Tasting of 2004, 36 European experts blind tasted wines from two vintages each of eight top wines from France, Italy and Chile. The first and second place wines were two Cabernet-based reds from Chile: Vinedo Chadwick 2000 and Sena 2001. They outscored two of Bordeaux's best, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Margaux.







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