by Fred McMillin
for September 18, 1998

 

Chilean Independence,
September 18, 1810


Prologue

Having been turned down by the Portuguese, Genoese Christopher Columbus found his backers in Spain. Sailing from Seville, he discovered America. Two years later, 1494, Spain and Portugal divided the land with Spain ruling all of South America except Brazil...an ominous development for the future of Chilean wine.


Milestones of Chile

1541—Santiago is founded in Chile. The New World was supposed to provide a market for Spanish wine, but it was converted to vinegar by the months-long ocean trip.

1578—Chile is already producing enough wine for export. "The Pirate Drake" likes it, seizing 1,770 bulging wine skins being shipped to Peru.

1800—For over two centuries Spain tries to subdue Chilean wine production and sell more Spanish wine to its colony, even ordering the uprooting of colonial vines.

1810—Chilean independence. About this time French critic Andre Jullien was not impressed by the country's wine, saying its "taste comes from the tarred goatskins in which they are transported."

1851—A French enologist brings Bordeaux varietals to Chile, including Merlot. Let's fast-forward 140 years.

1998—"Chile's best wines are its reds, including juicy, well-balanced Merlots," says Thomas Matthews in the Wine Spectator. My panel tastes a number of Chilean reds and the top scorer is a Santa Monica Winery MERLOT! Let's see who the producer is.


The Santa Monica Winery & Vineyards

Monica and Emilio Solminihac have been the proprietors of this small, high-quality operation for 22 years. Emilio is a graduate of the Bordeaux Institute of Enology, and also heads one of his country's leading wine labs. Ten years ago Jim Bundschu was the first born- and-bred California vintner to go south to find a Chilean counterpart. It's been a happy union; Gundlach-Bundschu is the exclusive U.S.A. importer.


The Winery

BundlachSanta Monica Winery & Vineyards
Rancagua, Chile
U.S.A. Importer—Gundlach-Bundschu Winery
Contact—Jeff or Rob Bundschu, (707) 938-5277 Merlot
Rating—RECOMMENDED in it's price range, which is about $12. The last Cab we tasted scored well, too. For more, see the April 28, 1997 WineDay titled, "Catch a Cab From Chile".


Postscript

Although there is negligible summer rain in the Santiago area, the first vinegrowers had no water problem. The native Incas had built a system of canals that irrigated over 300 million acres of fertile land. (Credits—Vintage, H. Johnson)


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 


WineDay Annex

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