by Fred McMillin
for September 18, 1998
September 18, 1810
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
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.
Monica Winery & Vineyards
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".
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,
||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.
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