Strict oenophiles relegate Chilean wine to the "New World" category of wines.  While geographically accurate, the 500-year history of Chilean viticulture argues that there is nothing new about the country’s wine-making. 

Winemaking got its start in Chile thanks to Spanish missionaries in Santiago, who first planted European grapes to make wine to celebrate the Catholic Eucharist.  What they soon discovered, however, was how perfectly suited the Chilean climate was to growing different kinds of grapes.  From Santiago, Chile’s wine country quickly expanded to today’s 800-mile stretch: from the Elqui Valley in the north to Malleco in the south; and from the Andes in the east to the Pacific coastal hills in the west. 

Winemaking developed steadily in the 18th century as Chile’s wines competed successfully with their Old World counterparts and by 1831 there were 19 million vines cultivated in Chile.  An economic boom saw the industry expanding and maturing as wealthy Chilean businessmen travelled to Europe in search of culture and refinement, many of them bringing back French and Italian cuttings which were successfully planted in the rich soil of Chile.  These cuttings, experts believe, are the only remaining vestiges of several Old World grape varieties which were later tragically destroyed in the devastating outbreak of Phylloxera.  Chile is the only large-scale wine producer to avoid a similar outbreak, thanks to ideal climate conditions and natural geographic borders. 

By the end of the 19th century, Chilean wine looked set for further expansion and growth as a Chilean wine garnered the coveted Grand Prix in 1889.  But politics intervened and the wine industry declined during much of the 20th century as the government imposed crippling tax tariffs and partial prohibition.    

The past twenty years, however, have seen a renaissance of the proud tradition of winemaking in Chile.  Foreign investment from international winemakers such as Mondavi, Rothschild, and Torres have played a big part in getting the industry back on its feet and stimulating the global appetite for Chile’s crisp Sauvignon Blancs, deep Chardonnays, and bold and fruity reds.  The happy result is that Chilean exports of wine are today measured in billions of dollars and are once again giving their Old World competitors a run for their money.

Enjoy visiting Chile’s wine country on Alexander + Roberts’s popular itinerary Easter Island & Patagonia, always capped at sixteen guests.

Posted: 3/15/2016 3:20:29 PM by Alexander + Roberts

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