March & April 2019
During our time Chile, we visited the major wine region for Chilean wineries, Central Valley, as well as the Aconcagua region. Here are our global comments on what we experienced!
Hectares of vines producing wine grapes: 214 463 ha
20% of Total vineyard area is Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% is Sauvignon Blanc
Annual harvest in 2017: 9,5 mhl
Chile is 9th in terms of wine production (2018 figures)
Annual consumption (2016): 17,1L/capita
MAIN WINE PRODUCING REGIONS
In the north of the country, wine producing regions such as the Limari Valley have experienced a relatively recent boom with the planting of international grape varieties. Further south, the Aconcagua region is home to the country's most famous winemaking sectors: the Aconcagua Valley, the Casablanca Valley and San Antonio. The Central Valley contains several winemaking regions, such as Maipo, Rapel or Maule and in the south of the country, the regions of Itata and Biobío produce wines as well.
Most wine production takes place in the central valley, a region bordered by two mountain ranges, crossed by numerous rivers, such as Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal, Tinguiririca, Teno, Lontué, Loncomilla and Maule, and extending over 80 km to the north and 350 km to the south of the capital Santiago.
the origin and current image of chilean wines
The viticulture was brought in Chile by European settlers in the 16th century with the aim of making wine for mass. With the massive evangelization of the continent, Spanish missionaries began to plant the País grape variety in Chile. The great development of the Chilean vineyard after the country's independence is strongly linked to French viticulture. It was from France that the vines were imported to make finer wine in the 19th century. In addition, Europe was affected by phylloxera in the 19th century: Chile has been spared and remains one of the few countries to have preserved prephylloxera vines!
Nowadays, Chilean wine brands are well known for their value and quality at lower price points in the market. If you had to give one adjective to qualify Chilean wine, it would probably be “cheap” for great quality: they’re starting to suffer from the consequences of this reputation as it’s now hard to sell high-priced Chilean wines.
AN UNDEVELOPED NOTION OF TERROIR
The challenge of the Chilean wine industry is defining a notion of terroir. Indeed, for a number of Chilean winemakers, Chile has not yet found its brand, its identity, since unlike its competitors in the New World, the country is not known for an emblematic grape variety. Australia sells its syrah, Argentina its malbec, New Zealand its sauvignon blanc... Chile does not have a specific flagship product, but this diversity of offers is also a competitive advantage. Maybe they could focus on their great Carmenere!
THE CARMENERE, A MAJOR ASSET
Even though when you think of Chile you don’t think of Carmenere, this grape variety that has been confused with Merlot for centuries, grows the best in Chile: it has found its best terroir!
Used for hundreds of years in wine blends in Bordeaux, more precisely in the Médoc, Carmenere disappeared almost entirely following the ravages of the Phylloxera attack in the 19th century. But trapped between the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama Desert and the Andes Cordillera, Chilean vineyards are one of the only ones in the world to have been spared by phylloxera. Carmenere has therefore been preserved there.
Claude Valat, an oenologist professor at the University of Montpellier, who was walking around the Carmen estate in the Maipo Valley in 1991, did not understand that some Merlot vines ripened two weeks after the others. He doubted that these plants were indeed Merlot. Differences on the leaves and berries were noticeable but it was not until 1994 and a series of DNA tests that the ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot formally identified it.
But it also implied a lot of work in perspective to separate Carmenere from Merlot... Some estates therefore did everything they could to restructure the plots and be able to work Carmenere as a single variety to obtain very colorful, rich and full-bodied wines.
When harvested ripen, Carmenere offers aromas of black fruit, smoke, cocoa, leather and tobacco. When harvested at a lower ripeness level, green pepper and herbs predominate. Its wines are very colorful, with purplish tints, quite rich, tannic and often with a great aromatic persistence. With different production terroirs and winemaking styles, Carmenere offers a wide range of aromas.
A LOW DOMESTIC CONSUMPTION
Chile is an old wine producing country, particularly thanks to favourable agro-ecological conditions, which are quite rare in the Latin American context. Until the 1970s, the wealth of vineyards was linked to a great internal market and most of the production was sold in Chile. But this system has declined with the disinterest of Chileans for wine: in 2016, the consumption per capita was 17,1L compared to 23,52L in 2010 (OIV data). This declining interest in wine forces winemakers to export the majority of their production. Thus, production is mainly export-oriented, since the domestic market is very weak. Most exports are to Brazil, Canada, the United States and Japan. Exports from Chile increased by more than 3% in volume in relation to 2016.
CYCLICaliTY OF THE CHILEAN WINE MARKET
The Chilean wine market is characterized by cycles, and depends particularly on events taking place in other countries. At the end of the 19th century, Chilean wine experienced a golden age when Europe was devastated by phylloxera. Some left Santiago to go South to set up vineyards in the Maipo region to plant European grape varieties.
As said before, in the 20th century, wine production served exclusively the domestic market. The recent distribution on the international market caused by a significant increase in quality, an inflow of investments in Chilean vineyards and a decrease in domestic consumption, creates a great dependance towards other countries and make Chile not only vulnerable but also very suggestible. Consequently, some critics declare that Chile obeys to current trends and would plant and cultivate whatever the demand is in other countries (mainly China). In 2018, a very high world wine production is expected after a historically low 2017 harvest and Chile follows this trend: the vinified production should increase by 36% compared with the previous year reaching 12.9 mhl.
Diverse spectrum of climates and styles
Chile draws a long and narrow strip of land over 4000 kilometers to the west of South America, stuck between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Cordillera. The country has a great diversity of landscapes and terroirs ranging from coastal plains to high altitude vineyards near the Andes.
In general, the climate is Mediterranean, with more humidity and freshness when travelling south. The coast is cooled by the Humboldt Current from Antarctica. It’s also accompanied by fogs. Near the Andes, the fresh mountain air allows large temperature differences between day and night.
Chile is therefore located between huge natural barriers, with the Atacama Desert to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Patagonia to the south and the Andes Cordillera to the east. These natural borders protect Chilean vineyards from many diseases: it’s therefore an ideal place to plant vines!
women in the wine industry
We felt that the situation of women working in the wine industry in Chile was quite similar to what we noticed in Argentina: currently, 2/3 of Chilean winemakers are men and we’ve also been told about sexism issues. We even experienced it when a viticulturist told us that “women shouldn’t work in the vines because sun is bad for their skin and it’s better for them to just wait for their husband at home while taking care of their children”.. However, we know that we shouldn’t make it general: nowadays, women winemakers are starting to rise up and have a voice in this male-dominated industry. What’s more, we shouldn’t only blame men for thinking that women shouldn’t work (and in case, in the wine industry) as many women shared this point of view. Nowadays, there are more women today that want to work and develop themselves professionally: there’s been a change among Chilean women as well. And in our Chilean visits, we really enjoyed meeting with Laurence and Elba, two passionate and talented winemakers!
Bernard Douvry, Georges Marais, Florence et Emmanuel Ramé, Florence et Jérome Dubar, Sabine Marais, Brigitte et Jean-Benoit Ramé, Marie-Christine Douvry, Molly Breiner, Anne-Sophie Klimczak, Lyssiar Oriwen, Astrid Massot, Juliette Leroy, Walfroy Dauchy, Sylvain Dubar, Antoine Rogeau, Tanguy Le Quilliec, Agathe Houssin, Mauricette et André Michel, Gillian Goulart, Ianja Rabenasolo,Valentine Burban, Delphine Héran, Valentine Ramé, Éléonore de Marnhac, Barthélemy Héran, Mathilde Perruchot, Jules Veyrat et Lise Riesen, Juliette Pinget, Juliette Dubar, Pablo Veyrat, Holly Bolgar, Jérémy Cerf, Phoebé de Sousa Passos, Emmanuelle Guisln, Charlotte Fliche, Mathilde Nike, Matthieu Giudicelli, Edouard Dollfus, Perrine Mathieu, Marie Altmayer, Romain Brissonneau, Valentine Bono, Yvan de la Baume, Maxence Béguin, Lydia Bellahouel, Aurélie Bergeras, Grégoire Leroy, Eloi Marquet de Vasselot, Agathe Guérin, Margaux Nuyts, Angèle de Leusse, Jean-Baptiste Mulliez, Mathilde Halpern, Diane Bunod, Blandine Charveriat, Marie Robaczewski, Clémentine Mittelman, Marie Delavoie, Holly Quintard, Chloé Peugeot et Antoine Charlent !