Guest Post By Sarah Meadows
What country produces a variety of reliable yet tantalizing wines, is impervious to the singular plague that haunts Europe and North America, and is virtually isolated from the rest of the wine world? Give up? The answer is Chile! This country has some surprisingly amazing characteristics that turn out to be quite conducive to grape growing and wine production. We recently tried a delightful bottle of Chilean wine and it got us thinking… what do we really know about Chile’s wine industry? Turns out not much and yet Chile’s climate and grape growing history are fascinating.
The Republic of Chile is a very linear country nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the rest of South America. The northern tip is bordered by both Bolivia and Peru while its eastern boundary is primarily flanked by Argentina, but first trimmed in the Cordillera de los Andes mountain range. Chile’s southern tip is rimmed by the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. The location of Chile affords this country great privacy from most of the world and it is this privacy that has given Chile its greatest advantage in growing grapes.
Dactylosphaera vitifoliae or, Grape Phylloxera, has ransacked the grape vines of both North America and Europe. This unrelenting insect has forced these wine producing giants to find ways to engineer and graft resistant vines in an effort to save their vineyards from annihilation. Phylloxera feeds on grape vine roots causing either the death of the vine or substantial retardation of the vine’s growth. While the rest of the wine world struggles to preserve centuries-old stocks, Chile rests quietly and completely unaffected by this merciless pest. In fact, Chile was even able to export authentic Bordeaux vine stocks before this affliction took hold in France.
These pristine vine stocks from France and other parts of the globe are grown throughout the country alongside native vines in Chile’s diverse climate. The geographical location of Chile provides an advantageous grape growing environment due in part to the juxtaposition of day and night temperatures. Chilean wines blossom with sweet fruit flavors owing to the warm days followed with cool nights imparted by lingering ocean air. Some areas of Chile, such as the Casablanca Valley, enjoy up to a month more of growing season because of the drop in temperature sustained by the surrounding ocean and mountainous influences. These areas are particularly adept at producing quality grapes for lusciously crisp white wines.
An interesting characteristic about Chile’s winemakers is their adaptability. It seems that when faced with an obstacle, the serious and dedicated winemakers of Chile find a way to overcome. By way of an example, in areas where it would seem the climate is not conducive to grape growing because of the threat of frost, growers simply expand their trellised vines upward rather than traditionally lower and horizontally along the ground. This allows more surface area of the vines and grapes to absorb sun rays while simultaneously taking advantage of the principle that warm air rises and colder air settles closer to the ground.
Likewise, when Chilean viticulturists noticed the lack of rainfall during summer months, they simply implemented an extensive irrigation system including culverts, channels, and ravines. This system is specifically impressive because it cleverly utilizes the run-off of melted snow from the nearby Andes mountain range. Even with a few roadblocks, the Chilean climate is manageable and, best of all, predictable. These two factors mean that Chile is capable of producing highly reliable wines. Thus, winemakers in Chile, while not constantly battling the weather and environment, can better focus on availing themselves of technological advancements to increase wine production and quality.
From Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Merlot, Pinor Noir, and Gewürztraminer, Chile has shown that it is well-equipped to churn out delectable wines.We were delighted with the bottle of Chilean wine we purchased and have been even more thrilled with the opportunity to learn about such an amazing country. Our brief research pales in comparison to the rich history of Chile and its prolific efforts to share genuinely unique wines with the world.