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Winemaking in Chile

The Spanish are responsible for winemaking in Chile. It was the conquistadors that introduced vines to Chile, from the vine cuttings that missionaries brought an planted. Finding the areas around what they named Santiago to be fertile and of the right climate for growing grapes, they started the industry in order to produce their sacramental wine.

This continued through the ages, with local farmers following suit and expanding the Chilean winemaking industry to the extent that in the sixteenth century Chile became such a competitor to the Spanish vineyards that Phillip II prohibited the planting of new vineyards and imposed heavy taxes on Chilean wines. This was largely ignored and the Chilean wine industry flourished.

This continued to the nineteenth century when Chilean wines seriously competed with European wines on the open market, and the Chilean vineyards flourished. The Chilean government made a state agricultural unit into which vines form France and Italy were introduced. This was extended in the 1850s with the introduction of classic grape varieties such as Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and Riesling, and the Chilesn wine industry really took off.

The climate was ideally suited to wine making, much more so then France, and the way was made open for its expansion with the outbreak of phylloxera throughout Europe and the European vineyards were devastated. Chilean winemakers took this opportunity to market their products in the wine markets of Europe and in 1889 Chilean wines were awarded a Grand Prix in Paris. Much of this was due to the brain drain of winemakers to Chile during the phylloxera era. There was small work for them in Europe while the pest was at work and many went to Chile to provide their expertise to the Chilean vineyard owners.

This success was small-lived, but, because the Chilean winemaking industry fell into decline in the 1940s during World War Two, and this decline continued into the eighties for political reasons. Policies were introduced to cut alcohol consumption and the wineries were hit with heavy taxes by the Chilean government. This continued until 1990 with the return of democracy, and the Chile winemakers were back in business. This was what they had been waiting for and they were fully prepared to take advantage.

A Spaniard, Miguel Torres, brought stainless steel tanks to Chile along with modern winemaking technologies, and with these together with the adoption of French oak barrels and improved bottling techniques, the Chilean wine industry rocketed.

Once more Chilean wine hit the world markets and rose to what it is today. Chilean wines now rank with those from the best Europe and America can produce, which should not be surprising given the pedigree of the vines, the expertise of the winemakers who were trained by the best that France and Spain could provide and the climate that is ideal for growing the best grapes.

The Chilean wines are based mainly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillon, and Chardonnay grapes, and others are Riesling Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Syrah and the list of classic grapes goes on and on. Although the best known producer is Concha y Toro near Santiago that started in 1883, there are many more, and although not all Chilean wines are top class, the excellent ones are brilliant and equal to and occasionally better than any that the top wine producing areas of Europe can come up with.

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