High-quality wines with a reasonable price tag or very inexpensive mid-range wines are likely to be from Chile. Not only does Chile have ideal conditions for winemaking, the labour costs here are much lower than elsewhere.
As elsewhere in South America, it was the Spanish conquistadors who laid the foundations for winemaking in Chile. The father of modern viticulture was Bertrand Silvestre Ochagavia Echazareta, who recognized that the climate and soil were favourable for growing vines. In 1851 he was the first to import noble grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot from Bordeaux. However, the prohibitive restrictions imposed by the government brought winemaking to a standstill. After the bans were lifted in 1974, Chilean winemaking underwent a renaissance. Miguel Torres was the first winery to introduce stainless steel tanks and barrique barrels. Cooperation with partners from California and Europe led to major improvements in quality. Interestingly, thanks to their particular geographical location, phylloxera never reached Chilean vineyards.
Chile is 4 000 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide and is a country with extreme differences in climate. Artificial irrigation is an absolute necessity in the hot Atacama Desert in the north. To the south is the barren, rainy and inhospitable Tierra del Fuego.
The country is divided into the three zones of North, Central and South. The northern zone from the Atacama Desert to the Río Choapa is the warmest. Table wines and sweet Muscat wines are produced here. The central zone extends 300 kilometres southwards from Río Aconcagua to Río Maule and includes the capital Santiago. Good quality white wines and Bordeaux-style reds are made here. The southern zone runs from the Río Maule around 150 kilometres southwards to Río Bio-Bio.
The most important grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, País, Merlot, Carmenère (red) and Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Muscat of Alexandria (white).
Grapevines can manage with relatively little rainfall. Around 450 mm a year is enough if the vineyard is situated on deep soil which can store rainwater. However, most grapevines grow in relatively shallow soils. Here they need up to 600 mm of rainfall per year, preferably evenly distributed. The Chilean region of Casablanca only gets around 300 mm of rainfall per year on average, and Coquimbo, a relatively new winegrowing region in Chile, receives just 100 mm a year. To make up for this lack of rain, around half of Chile's vineyards are irrigated. This doesn't present a problem at all, because the meltwater from the Andes provides the vineyards with more than enough clean water.
Chile has around 100 very large wineries. Anything under 100 hectares is considered to be a boutique winery.
Vineyard area and production volume
190 000 hectares, approximately 6.3 million hectolitres per year.