It is France rather than Spain that Chile has to thank for the start of its quality wine traditions. With the surge of European immigrants, especially the French, and their vines imported from the motherland, the growing of wine grapes as an industry emerged in the New World. In the three centuries that followed, the countryside in the vicinity of the capital became dotted with elaborate estates belonging to wealthy Europeans who had profited from the development of their new country. These magnificent spreads consisted of mansions surrounded by formal gardens and vineyards.
Vines brought back to Europe from the Americas introduced phylloxera, a pest that devastates wine grape roots, wreaking havoc on the French wine industry. Remarkably the wine grape vines of Chile escaped this scourge, still the nemesis of winegrowers in many places today. Though the reduction of export wines from France boosted Chilean wine sales, the country’s booming wine industry experienced setbacks of its own. The tumult that followed independence brought land reform. Other government policies stymied the country’s wine industry. Besides the internal upheaval, world events, most significantly the two world wars, interrupted exports.
After the collapse of the Chilean economy in 1981, trade policies were implemented that increased exports. New wineries sprouted up and innovative technologies and modern practices such as drip irrigation were employed to improve the quality of the grapes and the wines. Industry has also recovered from the 8.8 earthquake in 2010 in central Chile that caused millions of dollars in wine losses in the Maule, Colchagua and Cachapoal valleys and took its toll on Chile wine tours.
Chile was the first Latin American country to begin exporting wine and today is the tenth largest producer, distributing wine to ninety countries throughout the world. The government of Chile divides its wine regions into four Denominations of Origin and further into sub-regions, zones and sectors, representing different valleys. To learn more about Chile’s premium wines, check out www.winesofchile.org.