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Chilean Wine History

An emerging industry with a long past.

To describe Chile as an "emerging" wine industry is to ignore a rich history that dates back to the middle of the 16th century, when wine vines were first introduced by Spanish missionaries. The first grapes, called Pais, supplied the Missions and a thirsty local population with wine.

Chilean wine took a leap forward in the 19th century when French vines were brought to Chile, largely replacing the inferior Pais grapes in the vineyards. The new grapes thrived, and after the root louse phylloxera struck French vineyards with a vengeance later in the century, many French winemakers chose to relocate to Chile.

Unfortunately, unfavorable political and economic conditions in Chile made it tough for Chilean winemakers to market their wines to the world. Chile remained isolated until economic restrictions were loosened in the 1970s.

By then, many winemakers from the best wine regions in the world were champing at the bit to grow grapes in Chile's near-perfect climate. Spanish, French, and American vintners invested in the most advanced technology and identified the best sites for growing particular wine grapes, helping to transform the Chilean wine industry into a global force. Foreign investment continues today. Since 1997, the United States has invested more than a billion dollars in the Chilean wine industry. And the results are showing.

Chilean winemakers have turned their new lease on life into a distinct advantage. Getting into the international winemaking game relatively late has allowed them greater flexibility to respond to what consumers want. As a result, they create the wines the world is thirsting for in a style that is much admired. Today, reversing many decades of isolationism, about 75 percent of Chile's wine is exported, much of it to the United States.




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