Chile, that long narrow country on the west coast of South America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east. Long? Yes, 2700m/4300km from the Atacama Desert down to the rather chilly Patagonia. Narrow? Only 100m/160km from the sea to the Andean heights. The inland city of Santiago is the capital and Valparaíso its main port. Its neighbours to the north are Peru and Bolivia and to the east Argentina.
Vines were introduced in the mid 16th C by settlers, Spanish missionaries who came via California and Peru and the wines produced were mainly for sacramental use. Much later the French arrived, many no doubt escaping the phylloxera vine pest in late 19th C Europe. As a result at that time some really lovely estates were developed, mainly around the capital, which today add to the tourist appeal. For most of the 20thC the wines produced were mainly for local consumption and it was not until the political upheavals of the 1970’s and 80’s were over did investment, international expansion and new practices and technologies and many new varieties and superior clones make their presence felt. French oak barriques made a tremendous difference to white wine flavours – particularly Chardonnay – after decades of using local wood.
There are three main vine-growing areas: the Coast, the Central plain and the Andes; three very distinct environments, but blessed by a Mediterranean climate, rather dry, generally unpolluted and, therefore, healthy! Indeed nicely suited to organic and biodynamic growing methods.
The Bordeaux-emanating Carménère was considered the signature grape but thankfully this has been augmented by Pinot Noir and Syrah. Whites include good quality Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc (whispered comparisons with N.Z. no less.) Concha y Toro is by far the largest wine producer overall without, it appears, loss of quality and is part of a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Another notable ‘marriage’ would be that of Casa Lapostolle and the Marnier family of ‘Grand Marnier’.
The wines of Errázuriz, De Martino, Viña Leyda, Santa Rita, Viña Montes, Miguel Torres, the Garage Wine company, Caliterra and so many more are today ranked amongst the finest in the world for their award-winning quality and flavour and for the dedication of their winemakers who have transformed this land into a viticultural paradise.