An accident of nature and an industrious population account for Chile’s meteoric rise to chief supplier of winter fruit to North America, according to importers that supply the U.S. market. A quick look at a globe explains why.
Geographically, Chile and California are mirror images. And when the growing season comes to the farther reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, California’s vineyards and orchards are largely dormant. In other words, when it’s summer in Santiago, it’s winter in California.
When superimposed on a map of the West Coast of North America, Chile would stretch from the southern tip of Alaska to the end of the Baja California peninsula. Like California, Chile’s agriculture dominates a long and fertile central valley--in Chile’s case, sandwiched between an inhospitable desert in the north and rain forests in the south. Also like California, Chile’s long coastline is caressed by a current that moderates temperatures. Curacavi, in the heart of Chile’s grape-growing region, is a Southern Hemisphere version of Fresno.
For all those similarities, however, it has been only in the last decade that Chile has sought to exploit its agricultural resources as previously it developed its supply of other raw materials, observed Richard Eastes, general manager of David Oppenheim-California, which markets fruits and vegetables here for Chile’s David del Curto shipping firm.
Grapes came first, and they still dominate Chile’s produce exports. From 29 million pounds of grapes shipped to North America in 1975, exports reached 580 million pounds last year. Chile’s success is enhanced by its topography. The extremely arid deserts to the north, the Pacific, the frigid Antarctic and the towering Andes mountain range help seal off the country from agricultural pests.