Chilean Wine: A Profile of Chilean Wine History, Varietals, Producers & More

Chile's wine heritage dates back to 1548, when Spanish monks brought wine grapes with them to the New World.  The Spanish settlers quickly discovered that their new country's soils and climate were perfect for growing grapes.  By the time Chile declared its independence from Spain in 1810, the Chilean wine industry was well-established and flourishing.

view counter

Today Chile's wines, particularly its red wines, are considered some of the best in South America.  Wine writer Kevin Zraly calls Chilean wines "world-class."[1]  Let's take a closer look at Chile's wines.

Chilean Wine History

As mentioned previously, Spanish settlers brought wine grapes with them to Chile and the rest of their New World empire.  The first vines planted in Chile were país, or mission, grapes.  After independence, Chileans began to travel more and to bring new grape varieties and ideas about wine production back with them from trips to Europe.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Chile's wine industry took on a more international flavor when Silvestre Ochagavía planted French wine grapes in his vineyard in the early 1850s.  His winery, Viña Ochagavía (now owned by Carolina Wine Brands, a division of Watt's SA), was the first in Chile to sell wines made from French varietals.  Neighboring growers followed his lead, and Chile's wine industry continued to grow.

Unfortunately, Chilean wine producers saw their burgeoning industry dwindle to almost nothing as the world was torn apart by World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.  Post-war isolationism, a product of the country's political struggles, persisted until the early 1980s, when Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet reversed the country's commitment to isolationism and state ownership of property.  At that time, wine producers began to upgrade and modernize their equipment and expand production of wines for export.

In 2004, winemaker Eduardo Chadwick of Viña Errázuriz made history in Berlin.  His Viñedo Chadwick 2000 took first place in a blind tasting of 16 wines from France, Italy and Chile.  Second place went to another Chilean wine, Seña 2001.  Following in third place was Château Lafite 2000.  The secret was out in the open: Chilean wines were not only about value, but about true quality as well.

Today, Chile exports about 60 percent of the wines it produces.  Chilean wines are known around the world for their quality and value.  The wine industry in Chile is evolving; innovation and terroir are becoming increasingly important.