Fun Info

Martin Duran – Sommelier

History of Chilean Wines
The history of Chilean wine begins with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the territory we now know as Chile. The first vines were introduced to the territory between 1541 and 1554; according to French scientist Claudio Gay, the first plantations were founded in the city of La Serena before 1548 with the very first grape harvest in 1551 overseen by the conquistador commanders Francisco de Aguirre, Pedro de Cisternas y Don Juan Gómez de Astudillo.

The characteristic soil, temperature, and waters of the Elqui river facilitated the development of a wine industry in the area. The very same conditions also produced exceptionally sweet grapes which were used to make excellent aguardientes.

Since the 1500s, la Serena has experienced an incredible development of its wine and aguardiente varieties. The first strains of grapes used by the Spanish were primarily of the “Negra” variety – known in Chile as “País” and in California as the “Mission” – which adapted quickly to the soil and conditions prevalent in Chile. From these early grapes, the indigenous Araucanos learned to ferment grapes and created the drink known today in Chile as “chicha de uva.”
Martin Duran – Sommelier
In the Mediterranean climate of Corregimiento de Coquimbo and the central zone of Chile with their wet winters and long, hot summers, vines found an ideal habitat. In fact, wine production began to grow so quickly that Felipe II prohibited the creation of new plantations in the territory. The ban on new plantations lasted until 1678. Another prohibition on new plantations was enacted in the early 19th century because Chilean wines were considered to be competing with Spanish products.

By the middle of the 19th century, Chile gained its independence and began to consider the exportation of wine an important source of national income. It was at this point that the Chilean government began to enact policies aimed at improving the quality of its wines. A French agronomist, named Claudio Gay, was finally contracted and shortly thereafter created an experimental agriculture research station called Quinta Normal de Agricultura. By the year 1850, the research station had more than 40,000 vines of 70 different European varieties planted for research purposes.

The next step in the modernization of wine production in Chile was guided by Silvestre Ochagavía; a career diplomat who is now widely considered to be the father of modern Chilean wine. Beginning in 1851, Ochagavía traveled often to Europe and would hire French vintners and agricultural experts to begin replacing the Mission strain with strains of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cot o Malbec, Merlot, Pinot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sèmillon on his vineyard, Cousiño Macul. Ochagavía’s move towards European strains also spurred competing vineyards in Chile to make the switch for fear of being left behind. In 1879, Alberto Valdivieso introduced the production of sparkling wines to compete with the region of Champagne’s wines.

In 1863, a disease affecting many strains of grape appeared in France and spread throughout Europe with catastrophic results. Many strains of European grapes were entirely wiped out. The same disease appeared in California in 1873, in Australia in 1875, and in South Africa in 1880 destroying industries worldwide. Chilean vines, however, were entirely spared from the disease and contributed in large part to the recovery of the global wine industry. Unfortunately, however, Chile was not well situated to take advantage of its new position as a global wine hegemon with its export markets oriented almost exclusively towards the United States, and it failed to capitalize on the incredible opportunity created by the catastrophe.

In 1902, wine began to be highly taxed, thereby decreasing demand and production. Following the heightened taxes, prohibition of alcohol in the United States further depressed demand and Chilean wine exports. Between 1938 and 1974, the creation of new vineyards and the importation of new wine making technologies was banned by the Chilean government. The production of Chilean wines was further limited by the late adoption of oak for use in wine production.

The Chilean fine wine export market did not recover until 1980, when global wine producers and investors realized the quality of Chilean wines and stability of the Chilean economy made the country a worthwhile investment. International businesses like Miguel Torres y Domecq of Spain, and Margaux and Lafite Rothschild of France started the recovery by making very large investments into the export market. Modern wine production technologies were finally allowed into Chile again, and improvements to wine legislation and regulations, made Chile one of the largest global wine exporters by the end of the ’80s.

Climate & Conditions
Chilean wine is characterized by excellent quality and consistency at a reasonable price, which has helped position Chile as the most excellent wine producer in the New World. The incorporation of new technologies has allowed quality to improve year after year, and made Chile’s products more superior to competitors at a lower cost. One incredibly important factor in the quality of Chilean wine is the Mediterranean climate with its well-defined seasons, dry , hot summers, and wide fluctuations between temperatures at night and during the day.
White wines from the region are considered as fresh, easy to drink and fruity with an excellent balance between sweetness and acidity. Red wines are distinguished by their color and body. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon remains well known and valued abroad, but varieties like Syrah and Carménère are gaining ground.

The Carménère grape is now exclusive to the region, as all European vines were wiped out during the grape plague of the 19th century. Before 1990, Carménère was considered to be extinct until wine expert Jean-Michel Boursiquot rediscovered the strain in the Santiago vineyard Aquitania, where it was inadvertently being cultivated alongside varieties of merlot.

With special thanks to Martin Duran – Sommelier for writing this article.

Eduardo Macchino

Graphic Designer by education, horseback riding instructor by profession, Huaso for hobby and free-lance guide for Chile Off Track.

Chilean rodeo has a history reaching back over 400 years, but was not recognized as a national sport until 1962 by the Chilean Olympic Committe (Comité Olímpico Chileno). Chilean rodeo’s history begins somewhere between the years of 1557 and 1561, when the first “huasos” (Chilean cowboys & horse riders) began going up into the Andes to herd the season’s new calves back to the city to be branded and sorted. The first ever Chilean rodeos were held in the Plaza de Armas of Santiago. These early rodeos would often last for days and would place a great amount of strain on the huasos that participated. To cope with the stress and fatigue the rodeos caused them, the huasos turned the rodeo into a game assigning points for the manner in which the calves were separated from the heard.

Rules and scoring
Two riders enter into a ring with a diameter of 20-25 meters after a young calf. Within that ring is a smaller padded arena of about 12m where the riders attempt their “atajadas” (literally translated, this word means “attacks,” but in this context the meaning is closer to “attempts”). Riding their specially trained horses, the huasos attempt to pin the calf between the padded walls of the inner ring with their horses’ chests. Every “collera” (pair of riders) get three “atajadas” (or attempts) to pin the calf with the objective of scoring as many points as possible.

Rodeos last for two days, with Saturdays typically being for collera classification and Sundays when the finals are held. Rodeo season in Chile begins in the month of September (the month of the independence of Chile) and ends in April with the National Rodeo Championship Finals (la Final del Campeonato Nacional de Rodeo) which is held in the Monumental Stadium of Rancagua (Medialuna Monumental de Rancagua). This is the largest equestrian events venue in the world with a seating capacity of 20,000 people.

For a Chilean horse to enter its first rodeo, it must train for a period of approximately five years. The process of training the horse must be done with the utmost care and patience because even the smallest of mistakes could en the athletic career of the horse.

First, you must begin with a newly broken horse by working with the mouth trying to get the new horse to bend his neck to the left or right while simply walking forward. Next, this process must be repeated at a trot while also training the horse to become accustomed to spurs. Spurs help the horse achieve proper posture by keeping in his back legs and moving sideways, first at a walk, then a trot, then a gallop. This posture is desirable because of the small spaces riders have to work with in rodeo arenas.
Once the desired posture is achieved, then begins the process of trying to accustom the horse to chasing the young bull. For this stage of the training process, a tame young calf (called a topero) is always used so that the horse has no fear of the young bulls.

Then huasos try to get the horse used to moving laterally to pin the young bull with its chest, first at a walk and then eventually at a gallop (this process is called topeo).
The last phase of training is also the most difficult. This is the phase in which the horse must be trained to pin a fully-grown bull. This is when a horse must be brought into the rodeo arena (medialuna) for the first time. First, a young calf is let loose into the medialuna and the horse has to be encouraged to chase and eventually pin the calf within the smaller, padded inner-arena. The constant and rapid repetition of the chase and atajada make these actions natural to the horse and rider. But also because of the constant repetition and strain on the part of the horse, there must be long periods of rest between training sessions, or the horse could become injured. These long periods of rest lengthen the athletic career of the horse and help ensure a longer and healthier life.

Special thanks to Eduardo Macchino for researching and writing this article.

Chilean Skies

The dark Chilean skies provide the best opportunities for astronomy on our planet. Pictures of twinkling stars in glowing gas or spiral galaxies of mesmerizing grandeur are obtained with the world’s largest optical telescopes dotted around the Chilean Atacama dessert. The Atacama dessert is considered the world’s driest dessert, and it is this extremely low humidity which is a key ingredient to secure challenging astronomical observations. Not only is the Chilean Atacama dessert known for its natural beauty, but it is acknowledged as the place for world-leading astronomical research of the Universe. As a result, astronomical institutes from both Europe and the USA have performed their research of the Universe’s Southern hemisphere from Chile since the 1960s.

European Southern Observatory
The observatory with currently the largest telescopes in Chile is the one managed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It is located at 1.5 hours drive south of the port-town of Antofagasta. About ten kilometers from the pacific coast and on the desolate “Paranal” mountain at a height of 2700m, ESO built and now manages the world’s most advanced observatory: the VLT. Today, the Paranal observatory comprises, amongst others, the 4 telescopes with mirrors of 8.2m diameter. The salient feature of these four telescopes is that they can operate in close-harmony delivering the equivalent of a single telescope with a mirror-diameter of 120 meters. As illustration, the VLT is able to distinguish the separate headlights of a car on the moon (if there was one). The VLT can detect astronomical objects that are four billion (four thousand million) times fainter than what can be seen with the unaided eye. These properties are required for a telescope to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, ranging from the formation of planets and stars, the evolution of black holes, to the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Astronomical Research in Chile
The future of astronomical research in Chile looks bright, as astronomers around the world partake in the construction of ever bigger and better telescopes in the most suited place on earth. Not only does Chile provide the best conditions for observations of large mirror telescopes like the VLT, the meteorological conditions are also beneficent for observations of radio waves from space. (Radio waves are basically the same as that of light, except that the wavelength is much larger. Radio waves range from millimeter to meter lengths, where light is less than a micrometer.) Detection of radio waves emanating from space requires a different detection technique than the detection of light; basically one needs an extremely sensitive antenna instead of a large mirror. The next chapter in the astronomy story of Chile constitutes the construction of the largest radio wave observatory, built by the global ALMA collaboration. This construction is currently happening in the Atacama Altiplano at 5000m height outside the well-known town of San Pedro de Atacama. The ALMA observatory is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Visiting Observatories
The astronomical observatories in Chile are open to the public on specific dates. People are led around the observatory, are shown the telescopes and are given background information on the research undertaken and the technological challenges they constitute. The ever advancing technological developments allow mankind to understand better the mysteries of the Universe by means of the increasingly sophisticated observing tools provided by ESO and the other observatories. The Chilean Atacama desert provides the best natural conditions for pursuing these goals.

Special thanks to Willem-Jan de Wit, astronomer at ESO, for writing this article.