I had the honor to travel to Chile between October 20th and 26th, together with 5 other Brazilian wine industry professionals, as a result of the 1st brazilian edition of the Chilean Wine Academy – Ambassador Program. This program had the tutoring and mentoring of the renowned brazilian wine jornalist and wine critic and vice-president of ABS-SP (Brazilian Sommelier Association – an ASI afiliated entity), Dr. Arthur Azevedo, as well as the engagement of more than 120 professional sommeliers from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Campinas, who attended the masterclasses and sat for the exams. Details of this program can be found thru the links below:
During the masterclasses it was thoroughly emphasized the vigor and dynamism of the Chilean wine industry, the investments being made, the innovations being achieved, the deep research and analysis of the local soils composition, the discover of new areas, the new varieties being planted, the ancient varieties being recovered and the terroir wine trend which rose up with enhanced focus after the new classification of viticultural zones from East to West in 2011.
In this article, we provide some relevant facts of the Chilean Wine Country as well as the profound transformation which this industry has passed thru.
The Chilean Wine Geography
Chile is a narrow and long country, with 4.300 KM (2,700 miles) from North to South and just 177 KM (110 miles) wide. Going from North to South, the country is segmented into 6 viticultural regions, which are: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcágua, Central Valley, South Region and Austral.
The vineyards are highly concentrated in the one third central area of the country, in a range of 1.100 KM (687 miles), between the 30º and 38º latitude South (in the North hemisphere those coordinates would correspond to the North of Africa and Madrid). This area should be extremely hot, but the climate is cooled by a maritime breeze called Corrente de Humboldt (Humboldt Current), a mass of cold wind that comes from the Pacific Ocean and blows thru the entire coast of Chile, cooling the climate in this central area and fitting it between the ones of Bordeaux and Napa Valley.
Chile is geographically isolated by natural barriers, being the Atacama Desert at North, the Patagonia Glaciers at South, the Pacific Ocean at West and the Andes Mountain Range at East. This geographic isolation, as well as the pure water obtained from Andes Mountains ice melting, dry summers and rigid phytosanitary controls, all together allow Chile to have privileged sanitary conditions for biologique and biodynamic viticultures to thrive.
The soil composition is one of the most diversified in the world, as a result of intense and historical vulcanic ans sysmic activities (Chile has 500 hundred very active vulcans out of a total of 2,900 in the country). There are two main mountain ranges which have strong influences in the climate of the viticultural areas. Parallel to the coast, there is the Coastal Mountain Range, which gets closer to the Andes at the North and starts to move away as it progress towards South. This Coastal Moutain Range is high in certain points and it almost does not exist in some others. This altitude variation may either block or favour the action of cooling breezes coming from the Pacific Ocean into this central area.
The rainfall increases as we move from North to South, changing from a desertic rainfall pattern to a more intense one in the South Region (less than 70 mm / 2.76 inches in the North and up to 1,300 mm / 51,18 inches in the South). However, the climatic influences are much more relevant coming from the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountain Range than the ones coming from the offset of North to South. This characteristic led to a creation of 3 new climatic viticultural zones in 2011: Costa, Entre Cordilleras and Andes (Coastal, Between Coastal and Andes Mountain Ranges and Andes).
The viticultural regions of Chile are segmented in subregions, zones and areas. Examples of subregions are: Limarí in Coquimbo, Casablanca in Aconcágua and Maipo in Central Valley. Zones would be, for instance, Cachapoal and Colchágua in the subregion of Rapel Valley which also belongs to the Central Valley region.
It means the subregions were given another zoning based on the climatic influence either of the ocean or the mountain, what allows a more appropriate fit of certain grape varieties and more suitable viticultural practices for each specific area. This zoning has allowed a more precise viticultural approach and a much better quality of grape crops in Chile.
The Chilean Wine Industry Production
According to the last OIV global report (2018 data), the Chilean wine production increased to 12.9 millions of hectoliters, moving the country to the 6th position in the global rank of wine producers and recording a 36% growth in volume when compared to 2017. Additionally, the country steped to the 4th position of the global exporting rank with 72% of its total production sent abroad. In Brazil, reported data of the 1st half of 2019 (Ideal Consulting) pointed to a share of 44% of all imported wine keeping Chile’s status of number one wine exporter to Brazil.
Those reports demonstrate the strenght and relevance of the Chilean Wine Industry in the global Market but this is not enough for them and with a close eye at the future, the Chilean Wine Industry is changing…
Carlos Eduardo Mazon
Independent Wine Consultant
Sommelier ABS-SP | WSET 3 | EVP | FWS