Tuesday, September 18th was Chile's Independence day and we started the celebrations early with an in-depth look into the Chilean wine industry! Chilean wines have made a tremendous impact in the international marketplace over the last 10 years. Historically, the wines have been in the value-for-money sweepstakes against other volume countries like Australia. Today Europe consumes the largest share of Chilean wine followed by North America

A heritage of grape growing and sacramental wine dates back to the Spanish missionaries of the 1500’s. Chile’s wine industry began in 1851 when the ‘Father of Chilean viticulture,’ Silvestre Ochagavia, imported a viticultural expert from France along with a variety of cuttings of better French wines. Over a century later starting in the late 1980’s the industry was improved to international standards. Modernization of the wineries, better vineyard management, foreign investment and winemaking influences from California, New Zealand, France and others, allowed the wines to become excellent values.

Originally, Chile’s strength lay in its red wines, the best ones noted for their uncannily Bordeaux-like character. However, Chile had also began producing quality white wines, using cold fermentation techniques to craft clean, fruity varietal wines. Among the red varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere and Pinot Noir. Among the white varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillion, Chardonnay, and Riesling.

It’s a viticulturist’s paradise: dry climate, cool nights and limestone soils nurturing the vine. The proximity of the Pacific Ocean moderates the temperatures while the snow-covered Andes feed the rivers from which the waters, used to irrigate the vineyards, are drawn. Under strict control of Chile’s Internal Revenue Department, everything from the planting and tending of the vines to how the wine is made is regulated.

Chile’s central valley zone starting in the north is the Aconcagua River near the capital, Santiago, runs south through the districts of Santiago, Valparaiso, O’Higgins, Colchagua, Curico, and Talca. The original Bordeaux vines planted in 1850’s were in the Maipo Valley. Other districts include Casablanca and Rancagua. South of the Curico district is the Maule Valley, noted for its white wine. Currently Chile’s wine laws can be quoted as 75/75/75. To state on the label a year, varietal and region a wine must contain at least 75% of that vintage, 75% of that varietal and 75% must come from the indicated district.