Chile is a South American country, often described as a wine-growing paradise, making it ‘the Volvo of the wine world,’ in the words of Tim Atkin MW (Source: ‘In the Press’, Harpers Wine & Spirit Weekly, 23 January 2004, p.14).
Geography: Principal Cities: Santiago de Chile (the capital), La Concepcion, Talcahuano, and Valparaiso. | First order administrative divisions (16): O’Higgins. | Provinces: Cachapoal. | Colchagua. | Cardenal Caro.
Population: 2002: 13 million. | 2004: About 15.6 million people, mainly of Spanish descent with some mixture of Indian blood, approximately 300,000 Mapuche Indians live in southern Chile. There have also been many immigrants from other parts of Europe.
Organic & Biodynamic wine production data: See here.
Organics & Biodynamics: Adolfo Hurtado, winemaker for Cono Sur, said in an interview with Decanter.com on 5 June 2014 that organics had not really taken off in Chile because organics adds a 30% rise in costs from both lower yields and the need for extra manual labour in the vines, but with no guarantee that consumers will be prepared to pay an organic premium. This begs the question whether Chilean producers should see organics more as a pathway for premiumization by enhancing quality, rather than as an end in itself.
Advantages: ‘Few pests, warm summers, low costs (‘Label your libation with loving lustre’, The Economist 2nd January 2021, p.36). Benign climate. Highly skilled vineyard workers. Low labour costs relative to almost every other major wine producing country. Abundant irrigation from Andean snowmelt (although with climate change…). Few potential pests, apart from red spider mites (Brevipalpus chilensis) whose threat can be reduced/eliminated by reducing dust, reducing sulfur sprays (used for oidium), and encouraging natural predator mites (like Noeseiulus californica). Phylloxera-free soils allowing vines to be grown without needing to be grafted onto rootstocks. Low disease pressure – powdery mildew (oidium) is easily dealt with in organics, downy mildew (peronospera) is rare, and if grey rot (Botrytis cinerea) occurs it is usually a sign of bad vineyard management eg. excess irrigation to boost yields, poor site selection etc.
Disadvantages: Chile’s wine industry is dominated by conglomerates (both foreign-owned and local) who also own other pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap commodities such as fruit (kiwis, apples, table grapes), livestock (beef, chicken, eggs), managed forestry (paper, lumber), fish farms (salmon). A yield-first mindset has encouraged excess irrigation and fertigation (adding soluble fertilisers to irrigation water) which in turn increases the risk of damage from disease-carrying soil organisms like nematodes and margarodes. This then means vineyards have to be grafted onto rootstocks, negating a key Chile USP. Conventional sprays used to treat the red spider mite pest (see above) also kill the mite’s natural predators. It’s hard for Chile to premiumize or add value to its wines via organics or Biodynamics when there is so much cheap Chilean wine sloshing around international markets.
Exports: ‘Chile is the world’s largest non-European exporter by volume. A 2006 trade deal with China saw exports rise from $5 million to $250 million in 2019, with private label brands significant (eg. impressive-looking labels for gift-giving). In 2016 China became Chile’s main wine destination by value,’ (Source: ‘Label your libation with loving lustre’, The Economist 2nd January 2021, p.36).
Vineyard area: Eduardo Chadwick, President of Errazuriz gave the 2003 Wine and Spirit Education Trust Annual lecture held in London in early March 2003. The subject of his speech was ‘Chile –a success story, but where do we go from here?’ In his lecture he pointed out ‘A shortage of grapes occurred in the mid-1990s due to explosive demand in export markets. This brought about the 1997-1999 planting boom (by both growers and wineries) of premium grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and so on. In 2002 Chile had 107,000ha of vines, up from 50,000 ha in the early 1990s.’ He also pointed out that Chile was at at stage whereby a new generation of local viticulturists and winemakers like Alvaro Espinoza, Marcelo Papa and Nicols Bizarri amongst others was emerging, following established names like Aurelio Montes and Ignacio Recabarren.
Certified organic: De Martino. | Erasmo.
‘Agricultura orgánica nacional a Junio de 2014′ by Pilar Macarena Eguillor Recabarren, based on data from the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero (SAG), Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service.
Decanter.com, 5 June 2014, ‘Cost still a ‘barrier’ to organic in Chile, says Cono Sur winemaker’, by Chris Mercer.
The Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015), p.170.
Eduardo Chadwick, 2003 Wine and Spirit Education Trust Annual lecture held in London in early March 2003 as reported in Harpers Wine & Spirit Weekly (7 March 2003).