Did you ever wonder why the president of Chile has a French last name? It’s because of the wine, of course. President Michelle Bachelet, like many other modern day Chileans, is the descendant of a French immigrant who was attracted to Chile’s budding wine industry 150 years ago.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet wrapped up a three-day official visit to France on May 30 by returning to her family’s vinous roots in the small town of Chassagne-Montrachet, France (population 400). Her great-great-grandfather, Louis-Joseph Bachelet joined the exodus of French winemakers to the New World after the phylloxera crisis in the mid-19th century. The vintner sold what was left of his ailing vineyard and the family homestead in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or, upped his family’s ungrafted roots, and emigrated to Chile in 1859.
The Chilean and French branches of the family had lost contact until recently, and the president was visibly moved when she had the opportunity to meet her French relatives and visit the home where her grandfather was born. She departed from the formality of protocol in her speech that inaugurated the town’s new “President of Chile Michelle Bachelet Park” as she expressed her heartfelt emotion at being reunited with her heritage and began with Pablo Neruda’s famous Ode to Wine.
Bachelet family history in wine
Louis-Joseph Bachelet came to Chile at the request of another transported French family, the Subercaseaux, who hired him to work at the Chilean winery that bore their name. Among his most cherished possessions were Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vine stock that he brought with him to literally—and figuratively—establish new roots in his adopted land.
Not long after his arrival he formed his own winery, Vins Bordeaux et Magellan, and his sons worked with him. His oldest son, Louis, was recognized as a talented winemaker and published a book on winegrowing in Chile in 1876. His “Guía del vinicultor chileno: El arte de cultivar la viña en Chile” was considered essential reading in the field until the late 1930s.
Germain Bachelet, the youngest of Louis-Joseph’s six children—and the only one born in Chile—had two wineries of his own, one of which, Viña Santa Margarita, received numerous awards in French wine competitions. The Bachelet family winemaking history seems to have ended with the death of Germain in 1934.
For more information see: “El pueblo de los Bachelet” (Qué Pasa Magazine, in Spanish).