The name Colchagua is a variation of the Mapuche word “Colchahuala,” which means “place where the sacred Huala bird nests.
The area was originally inhabited by the Chiquillanes tribe, who dressed in guanaco skins or wore no clothes at all, and who were esteemed as the fiercest warriors of the Mapuche nation. They were conquered by the Incas in the 15th century, thereby establishing the southernmost extreme of the Inca’s great empire. The Incas introduced agriculture and irrigation systems, and thus initiated the history of farming in the Colchagua Valley.
Following the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th century, the valley was given as an award for valor to Inés de Suarez, the only woman to participate in the first expedition of Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. Jesuit Missionaries also came along with the Spanish to evangelize the indigenous population. The missionaries introduced wine grapes for the production of wine to be used during their religious ceremonies, thereby initiating Colchagua’s vitivinicultural history. The Spanish variety introduced along with the monasteries is now known as “país” or “mission.”
The valley’s first haciendas were established during colonial times. These vast autonomous agriculture and livestock farms were acquired by wealthy families of Spanish origin.
These families, most of whom had earned their fortunes in Chile’s mining industry in the late 19th century, replaced the rustic Spanish varieties with fine French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot, and Malbec. The first exports of Chilean wine had begun by the early 20th century with shipments of bulk wine from Colchagua to Europe, which established a definitive vitivinicultural character in the valley.
Chile is the only wine-producing country in the world that remains free of Phylloxera, the pest that devastated European wineries in the 19th century. As a result, the Colchagua Valley has vineyards that are more than 100 years old and that still produce world-class wines and that lend great prestige to this region: just one of the reasons that the Colchagua Valley was internationally recognized as the “2005 World’s Best Wine Region”, granted for the first time in its history to a South American wine region.