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In the 1980s Chile came to the rescue of many wine drinkers in the USA and the UK who were searching for a new source of reasonably priced, good wines. In satisfying that need, Chile emerged as the leading South American producer, demonstrating the commitment necessary to compete in the world wine market.

Beginning with minimal government assistance, a nucleus of Chilean winery owners invested heavily in modernizing their facilities. Old large wooden vats, once good enough for local wines, were replaced by small American oak barrels or more costly French barriques. To avoid making oxidized white wines producers installed stainless steel tanks for fermentation, and temperature -controlled systems for fermenting and storing white wines. New winepresses and the latest bottling lines were also installed. Corresponding viticultural improvements were made to restrict yields and therefore harvest more flavourful, concentrated grapes.

Chilean producers categorize wines into two types: those intended for the local market, which are lowpriced, and those made specifically for export. Made from prolific and undistinguished grapes such as Pais, local Chilean white and red wines are deliberately over-aged in large, old casks and are oxidized to meet the humble local standards. Wines intended for the local market are normally given proprietary names, but many others are bottled as "Moselle" or "Chianti", and even carry names such as Chateau Margaux and Chambertin unashamedly.

Towards the end of the 1980s Chile's economy boomed as a result of worldwide demand for its agricultural products. Wine producers were faced with increasing land values that made switching from wine grapes to other crops economically appealing and, at the same time, falling domestic wine consumption. Many looked to the export market.

During the 1980s production declined by almost half but exports increased eightfold - to 23% of total production. Four companies dominate the export market: Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Santa Carolina and San Pedro.

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