Chile has well defined seasons situated near the 40th parallel. Because
it is located in the southern hemisphere, the harvest season occurs
between February and April. Nearly all of the wine is made in one
region, the Maipo valley. It is high above the plains nestled in the
Andes which, like its counterpart in Argentina, Mendoza, receives
90% of its water from the mountains.
In Chile, as in the rest of America, wine making began with the
arrival of the Conquistadores. The Spanish introduced plants and
animals unknown to the Chilean indians which changed their daily
eating habits as well at customs and traditional activities. Among
the plants introduced were wheat, olives and grapevines. The Spanish
conquistador Francisco de Aguirre became the first Chilean vintner,
planting vines in the vicinity of La Serena in 1549.
In 1831, there were 19,664,901 grapevine plants distributed from
Coquimbo to Concepcion. The Atacama region, a great wine producer
in the 17th and 18th centuries, had lost importance and now two
thirds of the planted surface were located in Concepcion and Cauquenes.
In 1851, there was a spectacular transformation of the chilean wine
making industry. Don Silvestre Ochagavia Echazarreta personally
brought over from France cuttings of the most noble French wine
making varieties to plant on his land in Talagante. From that time
on, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Semillon
and Riesling have made up the base of Chilean wine production. These
varieties adapted splendidly to the Chilean climate and without
a doubt, are the only pre-Phylloxera clones that exist in the world.
A true legacy for mankind.
In 1979 the legal structure was drastically modified by the elimination
of practically all snags. With this, the legislation changed from
protectionist in nature to extremely liberal. This constant, economic
turmoil forced many of the traditional, land holding families to
abandoned their vineyards. They were replaced by economic groups
or corporations which, with greater economic potential began to
invest in the modern technology needed for the production of outstanding
Foreign investors started to become interested in this faraway country.
French, English and North American investments have begun to materialize,
attesting to the bright future of Chilean wine. Because of this
European influence, the principle grapes here are Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Since Chile made its reputation on quaffable,
afordable offerings, the quality has generally stayed in the value
oriented league. With big players from the US and Europe making
sizable investments here, it won't be long before we shall see a
dramatic increase in quality, not to mention price.