Chile has been growing grapes for more than 500 years, but its renaissance today dates to the mid 1980s when modern production techniques arrived in the country, including steel fermentation techniques. The country has since risen to become the ninth largest wine producer in the world and Chilean wine now has quite the reputation.
The country may have even been higher ranked if it weren’t for government restrictions placed on production in the 1950s and the nationalization of wineries at one point. The initial wines exported in the 1980s were hardly anything to write home about, but they were good enough to catch the attention of some foreign investors, namely Robert Mondavi and Spain’s Miguel Torres, among others.
Part of the reason why Chile is such a paradise for growing grapes is its climate, which offers hot sunny days and chilly nights. Rainfall is just enough and the cooling breezes help the grapes mature consistently.
The wines of Chile are full of fruit and are of extremely high quality. Even the lower price points deliver decent wines, including Concha y Toro, which many consumers may have seen on store shelves. Concha y Toro is no stranger to winemaking. It has been producing wines since 1883.
Cabernet Sauvignon grows extremely well in Chile and these wines are full bodied and deeply flavored. An old Bordeaux grape, Carmenere has become the signature wine of the country, much as Malbec has for Argentina. It has similar properties to Merlot, and the flavor is rich with strong tannin in the finish.
White wines are dominated by Chardonnay, which grows readily in the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys. An ambitious replanting program has seen the introduction of Sauvignon Blanc. Some vintners are also experimenting with Riesling, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
The main growing region in Chile is the southern half of the country, which is home to the arid Maipo Valley, which is Chile’s most famous region, on a par with the Napa Valley in the U.S.
To the south is the Rapel Valley, which produces some terrific full-bodied reds, including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which thrive in the hotter climes. You’ll also find the Maule Valley in this part of the country, which is Chile’s oldest wine growing region.
In recent years, winemakers in Chile have been experiencing a bit of a revolution. Gone are the old aging vats of redwood. These have been replaced by top quality American and French oak barrels. Additionally, wineries have been updating their tanks so they can have greater temperature control with computerized equipment. This has helped bring out the natural, intense fruitiness of the grapes.
Ultra-premium wines are also beginning to make their way out of Chile, which has been known for its low price wines in the past. The goal is to create wines that are every bit as good, if not superior, to wines found elsewhere in the world. These wines are grown in small acreages of ultra-premium grapes, using the expertise of American and European winemakers to create truly great wine.
As many investors have discovered, Chile is ripe for a revolution. Land and labor are cheaper here than in North America, especially in the grape regions of California. It’s only a matter of time before truly great grapes come to maturity and ultra-premium wines from Chile become commonplace.
One thing’s for sure. Chile is a force to be reckoned with in the wine industry. With its state-of-the-art equipment and new techniques in making wine, you can look forward to increasingly better wines making their way into markets worldwide.