Good timing and a touch of luck helped Chile become a world player in the wine industry.
Though Chile’s vineyards were established in the 16th century by Spanish missionaries, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Chile’s winemaking grew to a commercial scale.
This growth coincided with the success of the country’s mining industry. Some of the businessmen’s newly acquired wealth was invested in estates and farmland, including vineyards. Their entrepreneurial spirit soon led them to investigate producing a wider variety of grapes.
For inspiration, producers looked to French styles of winemaking. Along with fields of Chile’s traditional pais grape, they grew cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, chardonnay and pinot noir. The rising sophistication of Chile’s winemaking coincided with the disastrous phylloxera infestation that destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards in the latter half of the 19th century.
Chile’s vineyards, even today, were not much affected by phylloxera, an aphidlike pest native to North America. It’s still a mystery as to why this wine-growing region escaped the devastation, although natural barriers, the method of flooding vineyards for irrigation and the government’s strict control of plant material all likely played roles.
In the 1930s, wine production was at an all-time high for Chilean consumption, but exports were minimal.
In the 1970s, Chilean wine caught the attention of American wine drinkers when export restrictions were lifted by the Chilean government. Vineyards were replanted, new technology embraced and the attention of international investors put Chilean wines on the map.
Today, it’s every wine lover’s good luck that Chile continues to strengthen its reputation for well-made, value-priced wines and fine wines.
- 2008 Estampa Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Chile (about $10 retail)
- 2008 Santa Rita Chardonnay, Chile (about $14 retail)
- 2007 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $16 retail)
- 2005 La Playa Axel Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $27 retail)
- 2007 Montes Alpha Pinot Noir, Chile (about $22 retail)
- 2006 Montes Alpha Syrah, Chile (about $22 retail)
- 2007 Montes Alpha Chardonnay, Chile (about $22 retail)
- 2006 Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay, Chile (about $21 retail)