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Tradition, Heritage and Innovation in Chile

When people talk of Chile, they often talk of the ‘New World’. While compared to Europe, Chile may still be ‘new’ in terms of winemaking, there are great examples of family winemaking passing through consecutive generations, protecting a strong heritage and a rich history of winemaking.

Some of Chile’s first wines were made in the Maipo region and it is here where the oldest family-run winery is located. Established in 1856, Cousiño Macul is now run by the sixth generation of the Cousiño family: brothers Arturo, Carlos and Emilio.

Since its establishment, like many of the historical wineries in the area (Santa Rita est. 1880; Concha y Toro est. 1883) it has witnessed great changes in Maipo over the last 150 years. “When Cousiño Macul started, we were outside of Santiago, there was no city around us,” commented Veronica Cousiño, daughter of Carlos. “Today, our Macul Estate is almost in the middle of Santiago, you can get here by metro, taxi or even a bus!”

The urbanization of Maipo was part of the reason for the region’s rapid growth at the time. While also blessed with good vine growing conditions, the ease of transport links and quick connection time to the capital led to more rapid development of the area. For visitors, these wineries are an ideal day trip from the city center – taking less than an hour to move from the bustle of the capital to the tranquility of the vines.

Although the land surrounding the wineries and vineyards has changed its shape, winemaking still runs through the pulse of the valley. Maipo’s terroir is ideal for producing red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the region is home to some of Chile’s most renowned wines.

Strong family heritage is part of the motivation to continue improving on excellence for a number of wineries. “The advantages of working with my family are many…,” says Veronica Cousiño, “the first one is the fact that I’m working for something that is really meaningful to me, being taught by my Father and Uncles is a very nice thing for me too.”

The importance of family and history is visible throughout a visit to Cousiño Macul: from the family portraits adorning the walls, to the wines named after late family members, to a museum of old wine making technology and a wine library of each harvest.

Its long history informs parts of the winemaking too, with the fortune of Luis Cousiño having brought pre-phylloxera vines from France that still grow in the vineyards today. Some historical techniques (although in a more modern shell) like the vertical press are still used for premium lines in the winery.

Although heritage and tradition are a strong part in the identity of Chilean winemaking in this region, that does not mean that Maipo has been left in the past. Innovation is also key to winemakers here and most family wineries have broadened their horizons to buying vineyards or grapes from outside the smaller family plot and importing top of the range technology.

Modern technology has been key to advances in quality. “Ever since its establishment, Cousiño-Macul has been introducing leading winemaking technology,” adds Veronica. “For Cousiño-Macul, innovation is heritage. Innovation is the way to be able to have a business for 150 years and be thinking in the future.”

Inevitably part of the success of long-running family wineries like this is also in their loyalty to a style of wine and reflection of the terroir. This confidence in style and the legacy of historical winemaking families is a message Chile is starting to communicate to the world to show that although new and innovative, it is also historically rich for such a ‘young’ winemaking country. “I think that having wineries like Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Cousiño-Macul, etc. that were established in the 19th century is a great tool for showing our winemaking history,” concluded Veronica.

With so many of Chile’s wineries still supported by traditional winemaking families, the heritage of winemaking will continue to be inherited by future generations.

By Amanda Barnes

For more information on the Maipo wine region, visit here.

To visit Cousiño Macul and find out more information about the winery, visit their web page here.  

Photos taken of Cousiño Macul winery in January 2013 by Amanda Barnes

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