South American happiness…

As many of you know, I enrolled last spring in a wine course at the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College. I, somewhat, enjoyed it, but it wasn’t exactly the class had expected. However, it didn’t detour me from taking another course. This winter, I took Wine History and Appreciation – which  was more up my alley. However, I was not really thinking about the work involved. Work like a research paper. I haven’t written a research paper since 2005, when I graduated Seattle U with my Masters in Counseling.

Now, many of you are probably chuckling since you are thinking “how hard can a research paper on wine be?” True, I felt the same way. But, I was dreading it.. and put it off until the last minute. I had no idea what to write about. I wanted something I was interested in, but also something that connected with the class (and within 5 pages). So, viola! A paper on South Amrican wines was born. We didn’t cover that wine region at all during the class. Which was disapointing, since I am intrested in all wine history. Which is why I decided on that region. To which I found out that South Ameican wines have a long history, connected to France, Italy and Spain.

With the said, I thought I would post my paper as my blog tonight. Now, as a reminder… I am not a writer. And have not written an actual research paper in 7 years (especially one that was limited to 5 pages). But, I found some interesting facts on South Ameican wine and thought you would enjoy them!

Tonights tasting

For the first time, I would like you to include your favorite wines from South America. I would like to see what my fellow novices enjoy from South America… as I am still learning about these wines as well!

Now – on to my paper

With California wines emerging as a true competitor to French wines in the early 1960’s, it left the door open for other New World wines to compete with the European wine market. A new “radical” idea was born, an idea that wine was not merely a European fascination (Johnson, 2005). Other area’s in the world, such asChile and Argentina, who have history with French wine makers, could challenge the Old World wine regions and potentially develop world class wines. This paper is going to take a look into the history of South American wines, explore the historical influences on their modern wines and discuss consumer views South American wines.

Today, the major wine regions in South America are Chile,Argentina and Paraguay. You will even find wine production in Peru,Uruguay and Brazil.Chile was the first emerging country in South Americato debut its wines to the rest of the world. It had been a long time supplier of wines to other countries in South America, yet foreign to the rest of the world. It wasn’t until the 1980’s, when economics and politics’ allowed the rest of the world to try wines from the Chilean regions (Johnson, 2005).

South American wines are considered New World wines; however they have roots with the Old World wines of Spain. The grape vines of South America were planted by missionaries who came from Spain in the mid-sixteenth century. These grapes were considered “mission grapes” and are still grown today. The vineyards were planted in 1551 and the first records of wines being produced in Peru are from 1555 (Grosz, 2006). This practice began in Peru, but made its way to Chile, then in Argentina, where both countries attribute success in the industry to the climate, which is favorable for wine growth (Chilean wine history).

During Chile and Peru’s early wine production, the Viceroyalty of Peru put restrictions on how much wine could be produced. Much of their wine for consumption at this time was still imported from Spain (which still colonized South America). In 1641, winemaking from Peru came to a halt as the vineyards converted their production from wine to pisco (a Peruvian port) and aguardiente (a distilled spirit). However,Chile chose to ignore the King’s orders and maintain vineyards.Chile, as well as the rest of South America, was released from the grips of Spain in the second two decades of the nineteenth century when the colonies declared their independence from the Spanish empire (Johnson, 2005).

Chile’s wine production, like many wine regions in history, was religion based. In the 16th century, the people in the capital of Santiago were in an uproar for more wine to quench their thirst and spiritual needs.  The surroundingMaipoValley proved to be a tremendous source of red wine, andChile’s first wine boom began in earnest. (Chilean wine history). This was also at a time where transatlantic travel became popular, so many wealthy Chilean’s were able to travel to France and bring back many French customs (even today, Chilean architecture has French flare). One of the most important customs they brought back was the custom of French wine making. The Chileans were able to blend their Spanish influences with the French way of making wines. Thus, there wines being a blend of Spanish-French cultures (C. Grosz, 2006).

At first, the principal grape of Chile, as well as Peru, was the Pais or Criolla, which is a sweet grape and compared to a Muscatel. However, today Chile produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillón wines; as well as Syrah and Pinot Noir in the coastal regions (Wesley, 2012).  The valleys of central Chile are perfect for grape growing. It has fertile soil, plenty of sunshine, low humidity, and an infinite supply of water for irrigation (snowmelt from theAndes’). And their vines have been untouched from the dreaded wine disease Phylloxera, which affected vineyards inEurope.

As with the rest of South America, Argentina’s wine history is similar; with the arrival of missionary monks fromSpainin the 16th century. A Chilean friar first brought wine into Argentina via a cutting. Because of that, wine-making in Argentina evolved to the origin of two important wine regions: Mendoza and Cuyo in the years of 1561 and 1562. At first, the wines produced from Argentina were less than spectacular. The popular grape at that time was Criolla and Cereza (still grown today). Despite how crude this type of wine was, it was popular and sky-rocketed the development of Argentine wines, throughout the country as well as the rest of South America (History of Argentine wine).

Argentina’s arrival on the wine scene was more delayed than other regions of South America, due to political and economic chaos surrounding the Falklands War (Johnson, 2005). For many years, Argentine wine was enjoyed within the country. Once they caught on to what Chile was able to do with their wines, Argentina was interested in venturing to the outside markets.  It’s only been within the recent years that wine fromArgentinacould be found outside South America.  Although wine-making in Argentina maintained a small profile until the 1980s, local wine production has over a 300 year history. Inspired by the success of Chile,California and Australian wines, Argentina began to export their wines to an international audience (History of Argentine wine).

One thing Argentina was able to do, was bring back the almost-forgotten Bordeaux grape, Malbec. At one time, Malbec was one of Bordeaux’s famous grapes. However, it fell out of favor in France for it’s quickness to rot and mildew. However, being a region that is not humid and has fertile soil, the Malbec is able to flourish in Argentina. With that, it has become with most popular wine coming out of the Mendoza region of this country. Despite other grapes that are grown inArgentina (Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo), Malbec has transformed a region and putArgentinaon the map for outstanding wines. Today, Mendoza produces 70% of Argentina’s wine and Argentina ranks in the top 10 wine producers in the world (Schweimler, 2012).

As read from above, modern day South American wines have plentiful Spanish, French and even Italian historical influences, which make them a competitor within today’s wine market. An example is modern day Chile. Back in 1994 the French Marnier Lapostolle family, of the Grand Marnier fame, and the Chilean Rabat family joined forces to use French wine making skills from the old French grape vines (Grosz, 2006). Countries within South America have been able to use French wine making skills, along with their Spanish influences and rely on South America’s perfect wine-making weather, to make quality wine. They also have the ability to produce quality wines at low costs to the consumers. South American wines have quickly become popular, especially within the USmarket.

Even Forbes magazine has taken notice of South American wines, quoting “With Chile and Argentina, the possibility for exceptions was pretty obvious. Both countries have big-league wine industries (Argentina’s is the world’s fifth-largest), nearly 500 years of vintages and growing areas with Eden-like climates for farming wine grapes–so warm and dry that grapes easily ripen and pesticides, fungicides and anti-rot measures are often unnecessary. Around here, much of what is painstakingly “organic” practice in wetter climates is second nature, as it were.” (2008).

Chile, Argentina and Uruguay have also been able to put their name on the map by producing wines that are not usually produced in other regions. Chile Argentina and Uruguay have found their niche in Carmenere’s, Malbec’s and Tannat (something to keep an eye out for). However, the consumers cannot forget that they can also produce some outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon’s, Syrah’s, Pinot Noir’s and Sauvignon Blanc’s. By using grapes that France has essentially “thrown away” or are not as adaptable to growing in their environment, South America has been able to turn those grapes into signature wines. Furthermore,Chile’s Carmenere is today’s hidden gem in the wine market, due to the fact that they are (to date) the only country that produces it, the wine regions within South America are obviously adaptable to producing this quality wines.

In conclusion, South American wines are a threat to other wine regions in today’s market. They can credit their past but also be proud of modern techniques. South Americans have put their name on the map for wines. Bringing back wines that were once lost in Old World Wines is one niche they have accomplished, as well as the good fortune in climate, have all attributed to the success of the wines produced. In South American countries, they are able produce a range of wines that many other regions cannot to, because of the climate. The world has taken notice of Chileand Argentina, but given a few more years other regions such as Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and even Mexico will have their wines debut to the rest of the world. These South American regions have created an identity that has changed the way consumers look at wine and has shown the world they are competitors with Old and New world wines.

Grosz, C. (2006). The World Wine Encyclopedia: A complete guide to the world’s great wine-making regions. United Kingdom. Parragon Publishing.

Johnson, H. (2005). The Story of Wine. Great Britain: Octopus Publishing Group.

Nally, R. (2008). Twenty exceptional South American wines.

Schweimler, D. (March, 2012). Toasting the success of Argentine wine. BBC News Magazine online.


Wesley, N (2012). Chile’s new players. Wine Spectator. Vol 36, No.15.

History of Argentine Wine. All about AR: Argentine Travel Guide.

South American Wines: Discovering ‘New Wines’ with a Long History.