History of Wine in Chile

 

1500s the first grapes arrived during the Spanish colonization with the Catholic church who needed wine for mass.

1541-1554 the first vines were introduced between in La Serena, the main grape at the time being el “País” known as the Mission grape in California. It adapted quickly thanks to the Chilean soils and climate and soon vineyards were being planted from Limarí in the North to Bio-Bio in the South.

In the mid 1800s, Chile, now an independent republic, began to consider wine as an important source of export revenue. At this point the government began thinking about developing it’s wine quality further. French experts were hired for this purpose and gradually the ‘País’ grape began to be replaced by various other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cot, Merlot. French style wineries started to appear around the country and the movement of producing European style fine wines began.

Seeing the success of these movements encouraged many businessmen to follow suit, and many of Chile’s traditional wineries were established, including Carmen, Concha y Toro, Cousiño Macul, Santa Rita and Santa Carolina.

In 1863, the plague phylloxera was found in France and subsequently spread through Europe and then globally destroying vines. Chile however, remained free of the pest and subsequently contributed to a large portion of the global recovery in the wine industry.

Despite this, the boom period which could have been possible for Chile was missed.

At the beginning of the 1900s the two world wars  and increased state protectionism meant Chile was isolated from world trade and modernization which brought exports to a hault internationally.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Chilean wine exports made their recovery as the country was again opened up to the world scene and winemaking increased thanks to the availability of new technologies and techniques. World producers began to recognize the quality of Chilean wines and an influx of foreign money and expertise boosted production.

In 1994, Chile’s signature grape, Carménère was discovered by French ampelographic in Carmen winery hidden in a Merlot vineyard. It had been thought that this grape was completely lost in the Phylloxera attack but it had remained safe in Chile but confused with Merlot given the similarity in their leaf. It is now Chile’s flagship variety being the only country in the world producing it.

Today, wines from Chile are more popular than ever. Winemakers are focusing on higher quality, lower yield with many wineries also putting efforts into organic and biodynamic processes.

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