History of Southern Chile’s Vineyards
• The wine industry in Chile started with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, who introduced the vine in the region to produce sacramental wine. The first vineyards registered in the history of Chile were planted in the early sixteenth century.
• It is interesting to compare the origins of the Maule and Bio Bio viticulture with that of Mendoza. The Argentinean province has 170,000 hectares of vineyards and more than 80% of the country’s production. This fact is relevant since Argentina is the largest wine producer in Latin America and the fifth in the world. In addition, there was a close connection between the Cuyo and Chilean viticulture regions for several centuries, especially when the Cuyo region of Argentina was part of the Captaincy of Chile (1561-1776).
• During the first half of the eighteenth century, the tradition of the wine industry in the Maule and Bio Bio was already consolidated. Instead of replicating the culture of large plantations, the idea was to industrialise the activity, emphasizing the future potential of the region. At that time, Chilean wine exports were already significant.
• In the 1850’s 80% of the new planted vines were in the region, 50% of which were located in the Bio Bio area.
• A remarkable fact is that these southern vineyards survived for more than three centuries despite the conquest, colonial uprisings and the War of Independence with its high death toll.
• In the early days of the twentieth century, the yields of the two regions were similar. And by mid-20th century, wine production and exports started to show a sustained increase.
• Unfortunately, the region experienced a slow decline due to the strong development of vineyards in the central regions driven by the great aristocratic Chilean families (Cousiño, Undurraga, Melchor, Concha y Toro, Errázuriz), who took the advice coming from French consultants, among others, to introduce French vines and modernising techniques.
• Since innovation did not cross the Maule and Bio Bio rivers, the Maule river appeared to mark a boundary between the new age and tradition (MA Reyes). It should be noted as well that the economic crisis of the 1930’s and, later, the great Chilean earthquake which claimed thousands of lives and destroyed assets in the Maule and Bio Bio region are also to be blamed for the decline.
• Fortunately, these regions have been able to resume their development based on their ancestral wine tradition, their ancient vineyards and the ideal climatic conditions. These wonderful lands are expressed through their rich, expressive wines.