Chile is the oldest New World winegrowing region, surpassing Australia and California by two centuries. Chilean winemaking began in the 1500s with the arrival of Spanish missionaries who brought with them vine cuttings of the País grape, which is still grown today. In 1870, when the phylloxera louse began its devastating march across the vineyards of Europe and North America, Chile’s vineyards, protected by natural barriers on all fronts, remained untouched. When Europe began the task of restoration it turned to Chile for young, healthy plants to graft onto phylloxera-resistant stocks. Rare examples of pure, ungrafted European vines still flourish throughout Chilean vineyards today. By the mid-19th century Chile had grown rich off its mineral deposits and the emerging wealthy families began to emulate French culture and tastes.
Noble grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec/Cot and Merlot were introduced across the country in the mid-19th century. Naturalist Claudio Gay founded a grape vine nursery at the budding University of Chile, which housed 30 different vitis vinifera cuttings gathered from across France. This repository of grape vines had been invaluable not only to wine producers in Chile, but helped to revitalize vineyards around the world after the plylloxera devastation. The country has struck a fine balance between the traditions of winemaking, upholding the classic, established varieties and techniques while embracing the industry’s new methods, technologies and advancements. Today winemaking in Chile is a notable blend of new-generation and seasoned winemakers plying their trade in state-of-the-art wineries, some with centuries’ old barrel rooms, all developing a diverse, wonderful array of outstanding Chilean wines.
Chile is a country of extreme geological landscapes, spanning nearly 2,700 miles from north to south, with virtually every climate type to be found. Chile’s northern edge is bordered by the arid Atacama desert, which blooms with wildflowers just once each decade. The majestic, snow-capped Andes Mountains rise to the east; large glaciers dot the southern end of the country, and westernmost Chile ends at the cooling Pacific Ocean. Within the Central Valley, nestled in a slim 600-mile-long depression between the Andes and the coastal range is Chile’s viticultural heartland and the source of some of South America’s finest wines.