Wine Industry

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Wine Industry

An appetite for the fruit of the vine accompanied the Spanish flag and the cross to the Americas. Spanish conquistadores, settlers, and friars preferred wine to the fermented beverages of Amerindians. Reproduction of Iberian secular and religious culture in the New World meant transplantation of viticulture. Sanctification of religious rituals required wine, and missionaries carried vine cultivation and wine production to all corners of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Wine was also a staple of the "civilized class" (gente decente), which ensured wine imports and eventually the establishment of private vineyards and wineries.


Cultivation and fermentation of grapes followed the path of conquest. After Hernán Cortés defeated the Aztecs, he ordered his encomenderos to plant 1,000 vines for every 100 Amerindians under their care each year for five years. Vineyards and wine production in New Spain centered in Parras, Durango, San Luis de la Paz, and Celaya, north of Mexico City. The first commercial wineries began operation in Parras no later than 1623. By 1779 Franciscan missionaries had carried vine cultivation (Vitis vinifera) into California at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Grape cultivation spread throughout the California mission system, and at Mission San Gabriel it grew into a successful business. Under the guidance of Father José Zalvidea, the annual yield at San Gabriel increased between 1806 and 1827, when production reached 400 to 600 barrels of wine and 200 barrels of brandy. These early vineyards produced the Mission grape, known in other regions of the empire as the Criolla or Pais grape.


In South America, Spanish settlers had introduced vine cultivation into the heartland of the Inca Empire by the 1540s. Bartolomeu de Terrazas pioneered viticulture in the Cuzco area, and grapes planted on the eastern slopes of the Andes and near Charcas supported the manufacture of aguardiente. Neither of these efforts was as successful as the vines introduced by Francisco de Carabantes in the more hospitable desert coastal zone. Vineyards soon blossomed around Lima, Trujillo, and Arequipa. Jesuit estates in the southern coastal region controlled some of the largest and most productive vineyards. Carabantes carried vines to Chile when he was sent by Pedro de Valdivia's expedition in 1548. The vineyard of Diego García de Cáceres produced the first Chilean sacramental wine in 1555. Francisco de Aguirre planted vines in the north near Copiapó, Chile, and his son-in-law, Juan Jufré, expanded cultivation and carried vines across the Andes to the Cuyo region of Argentina before 1570. Catholic missionaries carried vines into the more remote regions of South America to ensure a steady supply of sacramental wine.

Vines on the east coast of South America came directly from Europe. An expedition by Martim Afonso de Sousa, captain-general of São Vicente, transported the first vines to Brazil around 1532. Older settlements in Paraguay provided the Jesuit priest Pablo Cedrón with vines for missions in Santiago del Estero in 1557 and later in Córdoba. A Jesuit missionary, Roque González De La Cruz, brought vines to the mission of Santa Cruz do Sul in the Portuguese territory of Rio Grande do Sul in 1626.


Cultivation of the vine and production of wine became so successful in the Spanish colonies that wine producers in Spain convinced King Philip II to restrict American production. In 1595 the Council of the Indies imposed limits on wine production and vine cultivation. Philip II's successors repeated the restrictions in 1620, 1628, and 1631. In 1654 the imperial government prohibited new plantations and levied a tax on established vineyards. Despite the crown's attempts to restrict grapevines in its American colonies, Vitis vinifera and the Muscat of Alexandria prospered there. Locally produced wine remained an important item in regional trading networks throughout the empire.

Although crown efforts failed to eliminate the colonial wine industry, other factors inhibited its growth. Restricted by regional markets, limited capital, and primitive technology, colonial vintagers operated on a small scale. Vine stocks deteriorated; primitive wine presses, labor-intensive methods of expressing juice, and inadequate storage facilities and temperature controls impeded expansion. When trade restrictions were lifted at the end of the colonial period, European wines—French, Italian, and Spanish—flooded the Latin American market.


Not until the mid-nineteenth century did grape growing and wine production become organized as large-scale commercial enterprises in Latin America. Entrepreneurs introduced new capital and technology and revitalized the aging vine stock with new varieties. The wine industry became more standardized, centralized, and lucrative. Private production replaced mission wines and in some areas all but eliminated foreign competitors.


The Mexican territory of California attracted the first innovators. The change began as the Mexican government started secularizing the missions after 1833. Joseph Chapman and Jean Louis Vignes introduced new vine varieties in the 1830s, but the acknowledged pioneer of the California wine industry was Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa, who arrived in 1849.

Chile and Argentina

The wine industries of Chile and Argentina profited most from the introduction of new capital, techniques, and varieties of vine. In Chile, Silvestre Ochagavia Errázuriz revitalized wine production by importing new vines and equipment from Europe in 1851, thereby inspiring other growers to modernize their operations. The pioneers of this period included Luis Cousiño, Domingo Concha y Toro, and Manuel Antonio Tocornal Grez. Modern wine production in Argentina started in the western province of Mendoza. Tiburcio Benegas, Emilio Civit, and other prominent landowners used provincial resources and lobbied the national government for aid in modernizing production. New grape varieties and technicians to run a viticulture school were brought from France and Italy. These changes promoted the development of a market for domestic wine.

Government involvement in and regulation of the wine industry increased in Chile and Argentina in the twentieth century. Both countries taxed wine production and supported technical schools to improve yield. In the 1930s the Chilean national government, influenced by prohibitionists, slowed the spread of vineyards by holding maximum production to 60 liters per capita. The military government lifted these restrictions in 1974. The Argentine government drafted comprehensive wine regulatory legislation in 1932 and in 1959 established the National Institute of Vitiviniculture (INV) in Mendoza. The INV oversees all aspects of the industry. In Chile a private organization of exporters and bottlers fills that role. Wine production increased in Chile from 84 million gallons in 1952 to 160 million gallons in the mid-1980s, when there were 270,000 acres in vines. In 1993 Argentina had 500,000 acres planted in vines, and wine is its third largest industry. Argentina is one of the top ten largest wine producers in the world.

The wine industry in Latin America has undergone a revolution since the 1980s. More areas are producing wine and the industry's focus has shifted from mass production or quantity of wine to boutique or quality production. Although in most countries the per capita consumption of wine has increased, it has steadily decreased in Argentina. Offsetting this decrease is an increase in the price of wines consumed. Argentine and Chilean producers have moved toward developing wines of higher quality for export, and in both areas, an influx of foreign capital has facilitated the production quality wines for domestic consumption and export.

Mexico and Brazil

Every country in Latin America makes wine, with the exception of the Central American states. Two areas besides Chile and Argentina deserve special mention. Mexico successfully revitalized its industry after the Revolution by increasing tariffs and importation restrictions on foreign wines. This encouraged foreign and local investment in vineyards and wineries. In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul has become the most important area of production.

Overall improvements in wine production in Latin America have increased consumption at home and abroad. Argentine and Chilean wines have earned international recognition. Higher quality and lower prices have liberated wine from religious and class restrictions. In the early twenty-first century, wine appears on many Latin American tables.

See alsoAlcoholic Beverages .


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                                       Joan E. Supplee