Over the centuries, Chile has been known to have diverse varieties and vine species that have enabled the country to develop and offer a large selection of wines to the world.
Chilean wine first began with the introduction of Vitis Vinifera to the country by Spanish conquistadors during the 16th century. Thanks to the country’s favorable geography east of the Andes, featuring good weather and fertile lands, Chile was the perfect place to grow grape vines and produce wine. Nevertheless, at that time, Spain did not share this opinion. Worried about the possibility of Chilean wine becoming more famous than that of its motherland, the Empire decided to put restrictions on cultivation in Santiago, Concepcion, and Angol. To ensure that Chilean wines wouldn’t bring any real competition, Spain decided to implement various restrictions and prohibitions such as new taxes for the local producers and winemakers, and new rules on planting licenses.
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During the beginning of the 19th century with Chile’s Independence, the country was able to make a great leap in its wine industry. The restrictions ended and new discoveries sprouted. Under the power of the Spanish Empire, Chile’s grapes came exclusively from Spain. However, with their new autonomy, Chile decided to branch out and look for new varieties in other countries such as France. This is how wines like Carménère, Cabernet-Sauvignon, and Merlot were introduced.
And that is where Chilean wine’s uniqueness began.
Carménère is a one of the oldest European grape varieties and it is also known to be the origin of many other grape varieties. Carménère stems from the Médoc region of Bordeaux in France and was also planted in Graves, a sub-region situated next to the Garonne River. However, today it is almost impossible to find Carménère vines in France. In 1867, almost all the European vineyards were destroyed by a Phylloxera plague, when a cloud of small insects attacked and devoured the Carménère’s vines’ roots in particular.
After the disaster, vineyards were replanted in France but it was difficult to replant the Carménère vines as they were hard to find in the country. But then, luckily, Carménère began to thrive in other regions of the world such as Chile.
According to some studies, Chile was left untouched by the disease due to its geographic isolation created by the Andes, Pacific Ocean, Patagonia, and Atacama Desert. The second hypothesis was that the way Chile used to irrigate its lands prevented Phylloxera from entering the country.
Thanks to its particular location and weather, Chile was protected from the plague and therefore able to conserve its Carménère vineyards and become the world’s largest producer of these now rare vines. This exclusiveness allowed Chile, at the end of the 19th century, to export French wine imitations all around the world.
Finally, thanks to the fact that the country stayed free of Phylloxera, it is possible to find 140 year old vines in Chile which allows the country to effectively produce complex, rich Chilean wine. This is how Chile rose in the ranks and became the 9th top wine region in the world.
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