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Chilean wines


European vines were brought to Chile by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries in the 16th century. Jesuit priests cultivated these early vineyards, using the wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. The first harvest was carried in 1551. During the colonial period, small presses were set in haciendas in the Maipo Valley by farmers that could that way pay tithes in church.

The first commercial vineyards were established in 1851, when Sylvestre Ochagavia first planted French vines in the Maipo Valley. The wine-growers soon discovered that the nature of the soil, the climate and altitude of the valley would allow them to produce world-class wine. Chileans always proudly remind that, when the French vines were destroyed by the mildew (a phylloxera plague) at the end of the 19th century, they helped the French replacing the affected vines.

In 1877, the first Chilean wines were exported to Europe. Very few of them were really good wines since the primary purpose was to meet the high local demand.

A spectacular expansion period started a few years ago. This development is mainly based on the growing exportation of “fine” wines. The traditional national growers but also newcomers with capital and foreign companies (from Spain, France, Germany, etc.) ventured into developing a quality winegrowing, purposefully export-oriented. The high degree of flexibility of legislation when it comes to place of planting, choice of grape varieties and vinification led to the development of a large wine growing territory, hardly industrialized and relatively uncontrolled. In the light of this, the example of the Chilean vine and wine is reflective of the Chilean agro-export model.



The success of the Chilean wine is the achievement of more than 400 years of wine-producing tradition in a region where the agro-ecological conditions are particularly favorable and quite rare in Latin America. Chile has a temperate Mediterranean climate, with rainfall occurring in the winter, followed by long periods of drought starting at the end of spring until the end of the summer. Moreover, the country experiences very high temperature fluctuations, with temperatures rising to 30° during the day in the summer but dropping during the night. The vines receive many hours of sunshine every day and the period of growth and maturation is very long. Together, these conditions are perfect to produce ripe and healthy bunches with colors and flavors that are rarely found in other wine-producing regions.

Chilean wines rank among some of the most biological and ecological wines of the world. Because of the dry summer season, the Chilean vines rarely suffer from plagues or molds. Geographical barriers like the Atacama Desert in the north, the Antarctica in the south, the Andes in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west protect the country from the phylloxera and other diseases. The absence of these threats allows the producers to use minimum protections in their vines, thus allowing the bunches to develop in the best natural conditions possible. The Chilean grape varieties, non-grafted, have a longevity (according to the specialists) 3 to 4 times superior to grafted vines (in Europe).



The state, in spite of its minimal involvement, introduced through the law n°18 455 (1999), a few “rules of conduct”. Chaptalization is forbidden and a certification of the wine quality by accredited laboratories is mandatory. This law has also established a system of denomination of origin when the “conditions of climate, soil, grape variety, cultivation practices and oenology are homogenous”. The first effect of this law is the definition of wine-growing zones. But those are vast and very diverse.


A few numbers

The export of wine has been prohibited for a long time during the Pinochet dictatorship. Today, Chilean wine sells well abroad. In 2003, Chile exported wines in about 85 countries for a total amount of 682 millions of dollars (53 countries in 1993). The results of the VinExpo 1999, where 40 countries have presented their finest wines, are even more eloquent: Chile was awarded 67 medals and won 3 of the 23 double gold medals, taking second place behind France.

According to recent studies, Chilean wines would have the highest level of flanavol, a natural antioxidant, which is an excellent publicity for the product since people are caring more and more about their health.

Wine represents 3 % of total Chilean export (mining products included), with a total of 3 million hectoliters (on a production of 5 millions).

Europe buys more than half of Chile’s wine exports. The agreement signed by Chile and the European Union opened up new trade possibilities. In addition, the stipulations adopted by Chile and the European countries are nowadays very stable.


Principal wine-producing regions

Chile’s wine-producing region stretches between 30 and 40 degrees south and includes eight different valleys with their own characteristics and wines. The Casablanca Valley usually produces the finest white wines, Chardonnays in particular, although its reputation is growing for the production of Sauvignon Blanc. The Maipo Valley is Chile’s most traditional region where is produced the country’s finest Cabernet and Merlot.

Coquimbo Region: Limari Valley.

Aconcagua Region: Aconcagua, Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys.

Central valley: Maipo, Rapel, Colchagua, Cachapoal, Curico and Maule.

In the South: Itata, Bio-Bio and Malleco Valleys.

Grapes for white wines cultivated here include the Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay, the Riesling, the Gewürztraminer, the Chenin Blanc and the Semillon. For the red wine, they include the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Merlot and the Pinot Noir.

Carménère is the name of the new ambassador of the Chilean wine. This grape variety was re-discovered in the 80’ in Chile. The Merlot commercialized by some local wineries was actually the product of Carménère vine stocks imported from France a century before. This vine variety had almost disappeared from the earth’s surface. The Carménère then aroused a keen interest in Chile as well as abroad. Its vine population has been multiplied by 10 since 1977, and production has reached 25,000 hectoliters per year.


The wine road

The hacienda’s owners from the Colchagua Valley agreed to establish what they call the “Wine Road”: the producers affiliated compromise and carry out a series of tasks, destined to present to tourists their infrastructures, production process and products. The “Wine Road” is actually a guided-tour of several vineyards including the visit of wine cellars (the bodegas), bottling rooms, as well as a degustation. The visit of a vineyard takes approximately one hour.


A few vineyards

The Viña Cousino Macul is a true marvel, one of Chile’s oldest vineyards (1546). This beautiful property is surrounded by a park designed by the French Gustave Renner. The central lagoon, full of multicolored birds imported from around the world, is bordered with trees in flower. This park is unfortunately closed to public during the visit, but you can see it from the road.

La Viña Concha y Toro, near Pirque, just after the Maipo River, is worth the detour. This exploitation launched by Melchor Concha y Toro in 1883 is today the most important in Chile with ten vineyards in Maipo, San Fernando and Rancagua. The original vineyard as well as the cellars are open to public and a guide will show you around the property.

The Viña Undurraga, founded in 1885 by Fancisco Ramon Undurraga, is located 32 km from Santiago, on the road to Melipilla. Undurraga imported vine stocks from France and, for the first time in Chile, German vines from the Rhine Valley. Just like his colleagues, he called on French experts to develop an expertise, today perfectly mastered.

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