Chilean Wine History
The Beginnings of the Chilean wine industry
Chilean wine history begins with the arrival of Spanish conquerors. In the mid-sixteenth century, the missionaries introduced the vines to produce wine for Catholic mass rituals. It is believed that the first vineyards in Chile were planted by Francisco de Aguirre Copiapó northern Chile. Diego Garcia de Caceres first planted vines in 1554 in Santiago. The grapes from the Santiago area were used in the mass production of wine, according to records dating back to 1555. The cultivation of vines and wine production moved south during the next one hundred years, reaching beyond the Bio Bio River.
Chilean wine exports increased rapidly between 1784 and 1789, competing in the international market with European wines. In 1831 it had a total of more than 19 million of vines planted in Chile.
After Chilean Independence the wine industry began to blossom.
The beginnings of the modern wine industry in Chile
In 1830, Frenchman Claude Gay convinced the Chilean government of the need to create a state agricultural station to be called Quinta Normal Agriculture. Most varieties of grapes grown in Italy and France were imported to the Fifth for wine production and consumption. In 1850 the Fifth Normal had more than 40,000 vines and 70 different varieties of grapes. With the arrival of Bordeaux varieties, Chilean wine history enters the modern era of winemaking.
In 1851 Don Silvestre Ochagavía Echazarreta varieties brought from France and most classic of the period known to plant their land in Talagante.
Ochagavía introduced varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Semillon and Riesling. These would be the basis for the beginning of the modern wine industry in Chile. The vines are easily adapted to the climate in Chile and it is believed that the vines are the only existing clones of grapes prior to the Phylloxera epidemic that exists in the world.
Chile is the only producer of wine on a large scale that has never had an outbreak of Phylloxera.
In the mid-1880s, Chilean wines are exported and marketed successfully in European markets. The quality of the wines were recognized at fairs and competitions, culminating in 1889 when they won the “Grand Prix” in Paris specializing in a sample. In 1938, the area of vineyards in Chile surpassed 100,000 hectares, as the wine exports reached their maximum levels, equivalent to the prewar period.
World War II marked the beginning of a decline in the Chilean wine industry. The industry entered a period of recess, which lasted until the 1980s. In this period, the wine industry was affected dramatically by the tax levied on wine industry and social policies implemented to combat the consumption of alcohol. In 1980 the country had a total of 106,000 hectares of vineyards in production, an area similar to that of 1938, however, the country’s population had nearly doubled over the same period.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was a decline in domestic demand for Chilean wine, causing a dramatic drop in the price of grapes. About half of the Chilean vines were uprooted. The political climate of the time was another factor that weakened the Chilean wine industry.
The recovery and rebirth of the modern Chilean wine industry
Upon the return to democracy in 1990, the Chilean wine industry began a slow but steady recovery. Between 1990 and 1993 an additional of 10,000 hectares of various strains wine grapes were planted in conjunction with large investments in new technologies for production of wine, with a focus on the growth of the international markets.
Chile’s Wine Industry Today
Chile has been highlighted as a global producer of excellent wines and spirits. Flavor, color and centuries of experience, are some of the features that make the Chilean wine one of the more popular of the world. The valleys of Chile receive an ideal combination of soil, sunlight, temperature and humidity, which lead to world class grapes and wine.Chilean wines are among the most organic. Due to the dry summer season, Chilean vineyards resist infestation and natural geographic barriers have protected the country from the arrival of Phylloxera and other diseases. The absence of these threats, allows producers to grow their vineyards with reduced dependence on chemical agents.In 2007, total exports of Chilean wine exceeded $ 1.256 billion, with destinations to five continents, led by the UK, U.S. and Canada.
Foreign investment has significantly influenced the development of the Chilean wine industry, among which are Torres Winery and Chateau Lafitte. Today, Rothschild, Pernod Ricard, Kendall-Jackson, Francisco State, Bruno Prat are among those international vintners with substantial investments in the Chilean wine industry.
All of them attracted by the ideal geo-climatic conditions, the promise of premium quality fruits, healthy crop conditions, and a growing demand for Chilean wines around the world.
Special thanks to Viña Veramonte for some of the historical facts gathered for this article.