History - trekkingchile


History of Chilean viticulture

The first vines came already with Colon from across the ocean


The first grape vines were brought to America by Columbus. Due to the tropical climate in Central America, the grape vine (vitis vinifera sativa) couldn´t flourish. The conquerors were strict Catholic and the production of altar wine was of great importance. In 1524, the conqueror Hernán Cortés was first to cultivate wine successfully in America, in the Highlands of Mexico. In 1530,  grape vines were introduced in Colombia, and in 1548 reached Peru and Chile simultaneously.

Francisco de Carabantes, a Spanish friar, brought the first grape vines from Peru to the Chilean seaport Talcahuano. At the same time, wild vines of the black grape Moscatel (Moscat) were discoverd in the backcountry of Curicó. This discovery suggested that there must be favorable climate conditions for the cultivation of vines. The first Chilean winegrower was Francisco de Aguirre. In other respects known as a cruel conqueror, Francisco de Aguirre devoted himself to cultivating grape vines, having his first grape harvest in 1551. In official history books, Rodrigo de Araya is celebrated as the first winegrower in Chile, who happened to be cultivating vines at the same time in the Chilean Central Valley near Santiago, corresponding to an entry in the Indian Archives of Sevilla, the central data base of the Spanish colonies.

Soon, vitis vinifera sativa was cultivated in the whole of Central Chile. Still, three centuries were to pass to the decisive break in Chilean viticulture. In 1851, Silvestre Ochagavía was first to introduce French grape varieties, providing the groundwork for replacing the traditional Spanish vines by varieties of Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Riesling among others, that today provide the basis of Chilean wine production. At the end of the 19th century, European oenologists worked at the big wineries, most of them coming from France.

At the turn of the century, 40.000 hectares were used as vine acreage in Chile, increasing to 100.000 hectares in 1938. However, the success story of Chilean wine had several setbacks in the 20th century. The implementation of a restrictive law on alcohol consumption practically outlawed further grape-vine plantations. The second World War shut the doors on necessary imports, such as the one of machines needed for viticulture. In 1974, the anti-alcohol law was repealed. From 1980, the opening of the Chilean market resulted in a revolution in viticulture. Innovative winegrowers equipped their wineries with modern machinery, improved techniques for plantation and irrigation, and introduced tanks made of rust-proof steel and barriques (French oak barrels). Shortly after, the big wineries that were owned traditionally by long-established families moved to an ownership of corporation, or that of holdings. International resources joined in as well, accelerating modernization in the wine sect or.

In the 1990s, Chilean wine gained a strong position in the global wine market. Exports to the US, Europe and Asia increased to a total volume of one billion US Dollars by 2006. The leading target markets for wine are Great Britain, the US, Canada and Germany. Chilean wine exports come to 500 million liters per year, so that Chile ranks fifth among the wine exporting countries.