Viticulture in Chile
began with the arrival of the Spanish "conquistadores". The first vineyards were planted in Santiago in 1541. In the early 19th century, big, important Spanish families, taking advantage of exceptional climatic conditions, started planting large vineyards to meet the constantly growing local demand. In the mid-19th century, the vineyards were restructured and the French model, synonymous with quality, was introduced. Many Bordeaux grape varieties were planted as a result. The largely unregulated viticulture resulted in wines of very variable quality. However, since the early 1990's, the Chilean wine producers have been pursuing a policy of quality improvement with the introduction of techniques that have worked well elsewhere.
Chile is very spread out, resulting in a variety of climates depending on the latitude. The north is hot, arid and desert-like, the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate and the south, an oceanic climate. There are 7 main wine regions with different characteristics. These are the valleys of Aconcagua, Casablanca, Maïpo, Limari, Curico, Maule and Itata. The terroirs of Chile are favourably situated between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes to the east. The exceptional natural environment and climatic conditions, particularly conducive to viticulture, have resulted in the growth of wine growing in the Central Valley.
The grape varieties are of European origin. They have escaped mildew and phylloxera and mainly consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec for the reds, and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites. Merlot, Sémillon, Riesling, Muscat and Carménère are also found here and the latter is becoming a bit of a Chilean speciality. The typically Chilean Païs grape variety is used for lower quality local production.