History of Chilean Wine

Fans of Chilean wines owe a debt to missionaries who arrived here in the 16th century. Spanish priests, who needed wine to celebrate the Catholic Mass, planted the country's first vineyards from Copiapó in the north to Concepción in the south. Of course, not all the wine was intended for religious purposes, and vines were quickly sent north and planted in the Maipo Valley around Santiago to fill the "spiritual void" experienced by the early Spanish settlers—many of whom were soldiers and sailors.

With the rise of cross-Atlantic travel and trade that began in the 19th century, some Chileans made fortunes in the mining industry. They returned from Europe with newfound appreciation for French food, dress, architecture, and lifestyles. Many began building their own Chilean-style chateaux, particularly on the outskirts of Santiago. French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Carménère thrived in the Central Valley's rich soils and the near-perfect climate, and thus Chile's second "wine boom" was launched.

Chilean wineries did not keep pace with the rest of the world and stagnated throughout much of the 20th century. However, the introduction of modern equipment such as stainless steel tanks in the late 1980s caught the country some global attention. Fresh national and international investment in the industry made Chilean wine a tasty and affordable option. Continued advances in growing techniques and wine-making methods throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century have resulted in the production of exceedingly excellent wines of premium and ultrapremium quality, with increasingly hefty price tags. Wine exports increase annually, and Chile has been named one of the top five wine exporters worldwide since 2010, shipping its wine to more than 90 countries around the globe.

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