Few places in the world are as well-suited for producing wine as the Central Valley of Chile. The Pacific Ocean breeze, the shelter of the Andes, perfectly balanced soils and crystal-clear waters that tumble down from the high mountains all go to make up an ideal microclimate for cultivating the most noble French stock; acting as a barrier that protects the vineyards. As a result, Chile is able to grow vine grapes in rich soils. Moreover, Chile has incorporated a high level of technology into its production methods, delivering a wholesome and safe product that surpasses both U.S. and international standards for quality.
Chilean wine is not a sudden impulse but the result of centuries of experiences that have been passed by its pioneers. Today, Chilean wines have achieved a strong market position and have also created an impact on the world wine market. Chilean wines today can be seen all over the world.
The history of wine in Chile began around 1550 somewhat after its discovery and conquest. Writers of the period spoke of the first planting of vines for the wine production immediately after Pedro de Valdivia took possession of the Chilean territory in the name of the King of Spain. As a result, Chile was more than a century ahead of South Africa in establishing its first vineyards, and became the first wine producer in the new world, some 200 years before California.
Chile has achieved extraordinary success in exporting their products and has become the number one exporting country in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also the largest world-wide exporter of locally grown and produces wine.
Departure for a visit of famous Viña Undurraga, founded in 1885 by Mr. Francisco Undurraga Vicuña on his land near the town of Santa Ana in the middle of the Maipo River basin. An avid connoisseur of Europe, on one of his many trips he brought Riesling stock back from Germany and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, from France. In 1881 under the supervision of M. Pressac, a native of France, the first seedlings were planted. Special emphasis was also placed on the production of the casks. The wood was oak from Kentucky and Bosnia that had been used in the boxes in which the Krupp canons purchased by the Chilean army had been packed. Since those faraway days of 1885, five generations of the Undurraga family have directed the vineyard; nevertheless, today it is an open corporation.
Viña Undurraga was one of the first Chilean vineyards to export local wine. The first shipments were sent to the United States in 1903. To date Undurraga has exported its vintages to more than 50 countries. Its 120 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Rhine Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are on low vertical trellises planted in soils of great wine making potential. Due to the sharp export increase, an additional 180 hectares of noble stock, Chardonnay Pinot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, were purchased in the Colchagua Region, with has a micro-climate ideal for high quality production.
The white grapes are crushed in horizontal presses and later fermented in stainless steel vats. Red grapes, a long controlled maceration period are employed to allow proper aging and development. Undurraga wines are characterized not only by their different varietals composition, but also by the extent of aging in oak casks and the bottle.
Viña Canepa was founded in 1930 by Mr. Jose Canepa Vacarezza who bought large tracts of land in Chile's Central Valley, in the Maule Region and Curicó The planted surface totals approximately 400 hectares. The vines are the low trellis type with an average production of 11,000 Kgs/ha. The varieties grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec (red) Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Alexandria Muscatel (white).
Viña Canepa produces two main types of white wines, fresh and fruity varietals kept for a short period of time in stainless steel tank and the other which have developed a bouquet of wood taste, as a result of three to five years of aging. Of the reds, "Finisimo" is outstanding. Its five year aging begins with two years in stainless steel tanks, followed by two more in wooden casks and ends with one year in the bottle in modern cellars that are isolated to maintain an almost constant temperature throughout the year. There is also a "Reserva Privada", a Cabernet Sauvignon, that has been stored for its first year in large tanks and then in new French oak cask for ten months prior to its bottling.
Visit famous Viña Concha y Toro winery, among the pioneers in Chilean wine. Concha y Toro founded in 1883, the title of Marques de Casa Concha was bestowed on his family by King Phillip V of Spain in 1718. He was married to Mrs. Emiliana Subercaseaux, another wine making visionary from whom in 1892 he inherited the exceptional lands in Pirque.
Nowadays, Concha y Toro possesses 4,530 hectares planted, split up into 21 vineyards with different microclimates throughout the principal valleys of Chile, planted with grapevines of the most noble French stock such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Gewürztraminer and others. These vineyards would increase with the planting of new stock imported from France. Along the vineyard expansion program, the company has upgraded its technology and currently uses the most modern cooling equipment, stainless steel tanks, filters and pneumatic presses available. Concha y Toro has also begun to use 200- and 300-liter French and American oak casks, the same as used to age world's finest French wines. Concha y Toro has taken leading position within the local wine industry by increasing its acreage planted with noble stock, modernizing its machinery and incorporating state-of-the-art technology in its wine making, aging and bottling process.>
Viña Santa Rita, founded in 1880 by Mr. Domingo Fernandez Concha, has been one of the pioneer vineyards in the wine revolution of the 90's. First Chilean vineyard to entirely replace its large storage barrels for small casks imported from France and the United States. Today they use more than 8000 casks less than four years old in the production of fine wines. Beginning 1985 Viña Santa Rica has carried out an aggressive export program increasing exports from 20,000 cases in 1985 to 500,000 cases in 1992. This has placed Viña Santa Rita at the top of the list of local wine exports to the European and North American markets.
For Chardonnay, two thirds of it must be fermented for two weeks in casks of new French oak from Allier and later stored in barrels for a month and a half. The remaining third is fermented in stainless steel vats. This system is used as a means of preserving the wine's varietals aromas. For the reds, the grapes are softly crushed. The alcoholic fermentation is carried out with the natural flora of the vineyard through careful maceration. Temperatures never exceed 26 to 28 degrees C. Once the alcoholic fermentation is over, the vat is once again filled with the wine so that it can macerate for 14 to 20 days longer.
The storing of wines, depending on the type, differs considerably. In the case of Chardonnay, the wine is stored at low temperatures 12 to 13 degrees C., for 6 weeks in French oak casks and is later mixed with a portion of the wine stored in the stainless steel vats. Red wines, once post-fermentation maceration has concluded, are decanted and stored as soon as possible in French oak casks. After 18 months of storage, they are clarified with egg white which makes them soft and pure.
Since 1996, the old master house belonging to Mr. Domingo Fernandez Concha has been equipped as the beautiful Viña Santa Rita's Casa Real Hotel. The large house, which shows a Pompeian style, has 16 cozy rooms.
Old and modern features may be observed in the hotel. Tear lamps, heaters, pictures, tapestry and armoires are combined in a contemporary decoration yet not abandoning a classic style. The Bishop's Room — formerly inhabited by a religious man — is available for holding meetings. A billiard table imported from England by Domingo Fernández Concha and a piano waiting for some guest is part of the ample game room offered by the hotel. In 1885, the French architect Teodoro Burchard finished building the Neo-Gothic chapel located adjacent to the old master house. Although years have passed, everything shows a very good preservation condition. The trip made by one of the restorers of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel from Florence, Italy to recover this temple was not in vain.
Departure for a visit of Viña Caliterra. Its activities began recently in 1989 as a result of a joint venture between Errázuriz Vineyard of Chile and Franciscan Vineyards from the Napa Valley in California. In 1991 Mr. Alfonso Chadwick purchased the Franciscan vineyard’s share and the vineyard became 100% Chilean.
Viña Caliterra was created in 1996, launching a range of wines that express the quality of the fruit grown in different Chilean appellations. Our experience provided direction for the new winery, which would be marked by the wine's fruitiness and definite style: modern, fresh and distinctive, with the particularities provided by each variety. To attain these objectives, the winemakers of Viña Errázuriz searched for the best soil and climate combination for each stock of vine in the main Chilean valleys. Today, the vineyard manages 50 hectares of Chardonnay, 37 of Sauvignon Blanc and 90 of Cabernet Sauvignon. Well known is their “Reseva” Chardonnay, “Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon white wines. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is characterized by an intense aroma in which grape the variety and the aging in wood is perfectly balanced. Presently and in spite of its brief life span, Caliterra wines are highly recommended.