Wine and grapes, vitis vinifera, arrived to Chile on boats with the Conquistadores and missionaries as early as the 16th Century. They began with a black (red) grape called Pais, known as a “common black grape” used for table wines and the Catholic Eucharist. Early recounts of wine production in colonial Chile also mention Muscatel, Torrontel, and Listán Negro.
Despite a thriving production and amendable climate, Colonial Spanish rule restricted the commerce of local wines, which actually gave rise to brandy and other distilled wine products like Pisco and Aguardiente.
Chilean Wine Production
Wealthy Spanish transplants and Chilean landowners actually spurred in the production of high quality wine having been inspired by visits to France and the Château wineries. In addition, following the Phylloxera epidemic during the mid-19th century, a flow of immigrants from Europe brought with them both the grape varieties and the technical skills to produce wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Caremenere, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
20th Century Chilean Wine
At the turn of the century the construction of the Transandine Railway facilitated trade west into Argentina, which inspired protests by Argentine farmers and fears that Chilean wine would dominate the market. Free trade suffered in South America, European winemakers had realized the potential of the Chilean potential to produce excellent wines as very marketable prices. Foreign investment flowed into the country and by the turn of the next century, Chile was definitely on the map and one of the top exporters of wine in the world, surpassed only by Italy and France. Today Chile remains near the top of the list. Increased attention to winery techniques both in the vineyard and the cellar as well a study of microclimate and terroir has equated Chilean with quality as well as quantity.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in Chile and Viña Los Vascos
The Echenique family, of Basque origin, planted vineyards in the Colchagua Valley as early as the mid-1700s. Centuries later they would lead the charge in expanding and developing the Chilean wine industry with the planting of European grapes, especially Bordeaux varieties.
Following the Phylloxera epidemic in Europe, they expanded their properties to the maximum permitted by local law. In 1988 the Eyzaguirre-Echenique family left their estate, Los Vascos, so-named for the Basque origins of the family, in the hands of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite).
From there, Château Lafite Rothschild’s technical director came over from Bordeaux to study the location, the soil, and the climate and began restructuring the vineyard planting to maximize the position. Los Vascos enjoys long exposure to the sun, adequate water sources, semi-arid soils and very little risk of frost. 40 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean, cool breezes contribute to a unique microclimate at Viña Los Vascos.
Today Los Vasco produces wines of exceptional quality, including reserve blends based on a Bordeaux model and adapted to Chilean terroir.
They have mastered the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, some of which grows on 70 and 80-year-old vines.
In 2010, DiVino created a music video in collaboration with Los Vascos, a creative marketing initiative. We focused on Cabernet Sauvignon with emphasis on the quality, affordability, and consistent everyday value of the wine. Watch it HERE!
Chilean Climate (Wine growing)
The location and climate in Chile is optimal for growing wine grapes, especially around the Valle Central, the area surround the city of Santiago in the heart of the viticultural area. Despite its longitudinal equivalence to Southern Spain and North Africa, the climate is classified as “Mediterranean,” and shares particular characteristics with Bordeaux and California, which influenced a lot of the winemakers when planting grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.
It is uniquely situated on an approximately 800 mile-stretch of land with the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This produces a significant temperature fluctuation during the day, which contributes to healthy, steadily ripening grapes and preserves acidity. The result is wines with intense and complex aromas, and naturally occurring preservatives in the form of citric and malic acid.
The climate varies throughout the region. It’s hot and dry in the North and cool and rainy in South. The Central Valley, in part due to its exceptional climatic characteristic as well as its proximity to the capital city is most world renowned.
Maipo Valley, the Rapel Valley, the Curicó Valley and the Maule Valley. This is Chile’s most productive and internationally known wine region, due in large part to its proximity to the country’s capital, Santiago. It is located directly across the Andes from Argentina’s most well known wine region, Mendoza Province The soil of Maipo Valley is noted for high salinity stemming from irrigation from the Maip
6 Chilean Wine Regions to Remember
- Atacama Region
Chile’s northernmost wine growing and producing region comprised two main valleys, Huasco and Copiapó. It’s quite hot and dry, thus much of the wine is distilled into brandy, most notably Pisco. [link]. In the mid 20th Century, growers did being producing fine wines on a small scale. In the addition the region has long enjoyed a traditional Spanish style of wine called Il Pajarete, which traces its roots back to Malagà, Spain, in similar hot and dry climate, and is made with aromatic grapes like Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez. [link]
- Coquimbo Region
Coquimbo is comprised of three sub-regions, Elqui Valley, Limari Valley, and Choapa Valley. Of the three, Limari Valley is perhaps the most climatically blessed, with a cooling fog thanks to the Pacific influence and a particularly mineral-rich soil type. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the most successful wines produced here, along with Syrah and Pinot Noir. The other two Valleys are both more dessert-like and produce spicy Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon principally.
- Aconcagua Region
Named for the eponymous mountain peak, the highest in the entire Andes range. This region comprises Aconcagua Valley, San Antonio Valley, and Casablanca Valley. Melted snow from the mountain top assists in irrigating the vineyards. It’s a small area known for exceptional red wine production. In 2004 blind tasting event in Berlin, wines from Aconcagua Valley outranked world famous Bordeaux producers Château Lafite and Château Margaux, which put Chilean wine on the map.
- Central Valley Region
Located in the area surrounding Santiago and stretching west, Chile’s most well-known and productive wine region, it encompasses the Maipo Valley, the Rapel Valley, the Curicó Valley and the Maule Valley, several of which are also subdivided. Alto and Central Maipo are known for powerful and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and well as Carmenere. The Pacific portion of Maipo Valley, with its Pacific influence, cooling winds, fog, and salinity, is popular for white wine production, specifically Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Rapel Valley you’ll find two of the Chile’s most famous wine producing regions: Cachapoal Valley to the North, and The Colchagua Valley to the South. Colchagua, thanks to more regular rainfall and a combination of granite and clay soil, produces extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, and Carmenere. It is also home to Château Lafite Rothschild’s Chilean Domaine, Los Vascos, as featured in the this video.
The Maule Valley is known for quality, diversity and value as well as for organic farming, which they have been pioneering for years.
- South Region
Here you’ll find the Itata Valley, the Bío Bío Valley, and the Malleco Valley. Here temperatures are lower, especially in Melleco. Most the South region produces beautiful, dry, crisp and mineral-driven wines.
- Austral Region
The southernmost growing area of Chile comprises Osorno Valley and Cautín Valley. It’s cool with a volcanic soil type which is particularly suited for Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling.