Chilean wine harvest in 2011 yields record grape production

Smaller varietals like Chardonnay, Carmenere and Malbec are on the rise as Chilean vineyards bet on diversification to win US market.


National wine production in Chile enjoyed a record harvest in 2011, according to SAG, the national agricultural service. This year vineyards produced over one billion liters of wine, beating the previous record from 2009 by some 35 million liters.

Maule region produces more than a third of Chile’s wine

The Maule region produced the most wine this year, with 381 million liters – a 5 percent increase compared to 2010, when the region was significantly affected by the 8.8 earthquake in February.

Just north of Maule, the O’Higgins region increased production by 13 percent, with an overall output of 273 million liters. Home to a rapidly-growing wine culture, O’Higgins is centered in the picturesque city of Santa Cruz and the wine routes in the Colchagua Valley.

New varietals on the table

Wines made from table grapes more than doubled this year, but the real surprise came from the increased diversity of varietals in a country traditionally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.

While “King Cab” still reigns supreme at 34 percent of total grape production, the percentage is down several points on last year, while Chardonnay and Carmenere both saw small increases. The largest increase, however, was in the “other” category, which increased from 17 percent to 23 percent of total Chilean wine production in the last 12 months.

Among these “other” grapes is the Malbec varietal, the iconic grape of neighboring Argentina. According to SAG, Malbec was one of the 10 most important varietals in Chile last year, producing over nine million liters.

Maximiliano Morales of Andes Wines said Chilean Malbec “has gained international prestige because it is very fruity, fresh, and elegant. This has been reaffirmed in various blind tests where Chilean wines have beaten Argentine wines.”

The broader trend towards diversification can be explained in part by the success of Chilean wines in the United States, according to José Guilisasti, of the Emiliana vineyard. “Vineyards are betting on variety, in order to better penetrate the US market,” Guilisasti said.