A History of Bordeaux Wine in Chile

Although Chile is dubbed a “new world” wine region it’s viticultural history stretches back to around 1548. Legend has it that the Spanish priest, Francisco de Carabantes first brought vines to Chile and planted them around Concepion, 375 miles south of Santiago. However, what is certain is that the first large scale vineyards were planted by Spanish conquistador, Francisco de Aguirre in 1551 around Copiapo, near La Serena in the Elqui Valley. What is remarkable is Chile’s diversity of terroir and nearly limitless opportunities for grapes were recognized nearly 500 years ago. Today, Chilean winemakers and viticulturalists are following in the footsteps of these Spanish viticultural pioneers, bringing to life and to the world the incredible breadth and remarkable terroir of Chile’s far flung wine regions.

It was not these grape varieties that put Chilean wine on the map and in glasses around the world. That honor belongs to the classic Bordelais grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and of course Carmenere. 1851 is widely regarded as the year the first French Vitis Vinifera vines were planted in Chile by Don Silvestre Ochagavia Echazarreta, who founded Viña Ochagavia. Over the next 30 years many others followed in his footsteps, including Concha y Toro  in 1883. Immigration to Chile from the old world was steadily increasing over the latter half of the 19th century with many French, German, Croatian, Italian and British immigrants arriving in Valparaiso, many brought vine cuttings with them to propagate in their new home.

This influx of immigrants coincided with the devastation of vineyards in France due to inadvertently introduced insect Phylloxera. Estimates vary, but roughly two-thirds to nine-tenths of the vineyards in France alone were destroyed by 1889. Luckily for those who come to Chile their vines were unaffected and ideally suited to the new climate. Carmenere is a classic example of this. The grape needs a long, hot, dry climate to properly ripen. Bordeaux, its home in Europe is cool, humid and heavily influenced by its maritime climate. This is far from ideal for Carmenere. Between the Phylloxera epidemic and the natural climate of the region Carmenere was not replanted in Europe and only survived due to immigrants bringing cuttings to Chile.

Chile is a viticultural paradise for Bordeaux grape varieties. The cool coastal climate, hot inland valleys and cool mountain regions are exceptionally well suited to these Bordeaux grapes. A concentration of rain in the winter, a warm dry Spring, Summer and Autumn, large diurnal temperature shifts, constant breezes coming from the Ocean and Andes and gravely, sandy, clay based soils ensure ideal conditions for growing grapes to craft wines that represent the heritage of Bordeaux and the one of a kind opportunities that only Chilean terroir can provide.

One of the newest examples of this evolution is our very own Marques de Casa Concha Heritage Red Blend. Produced from the El Mariscal Vineyard in Maipo’s Puente Alto DO, Heritage has it all in the name. This wine not only faithfully expresses Chilean terroir through the filter of Bordeaux grapes, it is emblematic of Chile viticultural history and Concha y Toro’s dedication to producing exceptional wines that represent their place of Origin, whether it is bringing the old world to the new or the new world evolving what started in the old. 

Author: Jake Pippin, Director of Fine Wine & Education