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Aug 23, 2022

País, known as Criolla Chica in Argentina, and Mission in the US,  was brought by the Spanish conquistadores and was South America’s most planted grape for centuries until an economic boom in Chile and waves of migration in Argentina brought new and interesting grapes to these nations. Argentina has plantings of the grape, California now barely any, so Chile is the epicenter of the grape, where it is thought of as the locals’ grape – something low quality and common that has been around forever but has never made more than cheap, bulk wine or wine for local consumption. 

País (a.k.a., Criolla Chica or Mission), "Mission Grapes" by Hey Fritters is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


But in 2007, the 200+ year old vines caught the attention of Europeans who were making wine in Chile and they began experimenting. The grape was made into sparkling wine and then into funky natural wines, which gained a following in France and in the capital city of Chile, Santiago. Today, there is revived interest in this grape, and it is making everything from Beaujolais Nouveau-like styles to some more complex, spicy, herbal yet fruit wines with great tannins and acidity. In this episode we explore the origins of this grape and what makes it so fascinating. 


Here are the show notes:

  • We discuss the overview of the grape – it’s called Criolla Chica in Argentina, Mission in California, and it is grown in Peru where it is distilled into Pisco and makes some natural wine, as well as Bolivia where it is called Missionera. We will refer to the grape only as País because Chile is the epicenter of growing!


  • We discuss the styles of wine that País makes: rosé, sparkling, lighter and easy drinking wine, and a fortified wine called Angelica, that can last for decades



The Grape Origins:

  • País was probably the first vitis vinifera grape to come from the Old World, we tell the alleged story of Hernán Cortes hating the native grapes and demanding that better grapes be brought. He mandated that sacramental wine be made using grapes grown from cuttings from the Old World, so the high yielding Listán Preto was brought from Castilla-La Mancha and the Canary Islands where it had been growing to make wine to restock ships for the journey across the sea.


In the vineyard

  • País is a big cropper with big, irregular berries. It has a lot of water in the grapes which can result in a low concentration of flavor
  • The grape is easy to cultivate, is drought resistant, and has very deep roots, especially when grown on well-drained, granite rich slopes. It likes hot, dry climates. For these reasons it deserves our attention – it could have a bright future with climate change, although it needs careful management to be good. There are many 200+ year old vines in Chile, trained in bushes. Many of them have potential to be great. 




  • Winemakers must grapple with the fact that the wine lacks concentration of fruit flavor, and that it has a rustic, rough mouthfeel due to the types of tannins in the grape. It can also have low acidity or, if picked too early, too much acidity. 
  • Techniques to manage the grape include carbonic maceration to increase fruitiness, saignee to increase intensity, and gentle pressing and traditional winemaking to keep the balance in the wines. 
  • Terms we discuss:
    • Zaranda – a bamboo mat that sits over the fermentation vat. Winemakers apply gentle pressure for less tannic, more acidic wines. Grapes are then crushed by foot and left to ferment in the traditional winemaking method
    • Pipas — large pipe-shaped vats made from native beechwood. Used for short-term aging


País Wine/Flavors

  • País is very light in color, and light in body. Depending on how the tannins are managed, the wine can be balanced or have really rough tannins
  • The aromas and flavors range. The wines can be spicy and complex, with earthy, herbal, black pepper, and red fruit notes. It can also be simple with red fruit notes like pomegranate, and floral notes. It’s often compared to Beaujolais



Food Pairings: 

  • Mediterranean origin food. Think about Spanish tapas or Greek meze. Lentils, black beans burgers, beans, tacos, Spanish rice





  • Today, about ~7,250 ha/17,915 acres of País grow all over Chile -- from the Atacama Desert in the north to the southern regions of Maule, Bio Bio, and Itata, where the majority of plantings lie
  • Was a much larger part of Chile’s plantings until the mid 1800s when the mining boom made some Chileans very wealthy, and they used that money to set up vineyards and winemaking operations to make French varietal wine – Cabernet usurped País. 
  • The grape was relegated to poor regions,  especially Maule, Bío Bío, and Itata where it was kept alive by the traditional local wine, Pipeño – fizzy, light, often sweet red made of País. The grape was so cheap and undervalued that growers and winemakers have no incentive to work with it 
  • In 2006-2007, producers like Miguel Torres of Spain and young winemaker, Louis-Antoine Luyt who was trained in Beaujolais and is a natural wine advocate began making impressive sparkling and red of País. As the wine improved in quality, others became interested in making País and blends using the grape – Bouchon, Roberto Henriquez, and Concha y Toro are some examples

One of Luyt's wine labels



  • According to Amanda Barnes, author of the “Wines of South America”,  “Criolla” means a person or thing of Spanish-descent, born or developed in the Americas. Music, food, people, and grapes can be Criolla. Criolla grapes are a family of grape varieties that include the first vines, and part of that is Criolla Chica. 
  • Producers that are experimenting:
  • Cara Sur in Barreal, San Juan 
  • Rocamadre in Paraje Altamira (Mendoza) from old vines
  • Vallisto in Salta




  • Called Mission grape  -- Established in 1769 with the Franciscan missions, Junipero Serra
  • Died with Prohibition, today about 400 acres left, some producers in Amador, Calaveras, Santa Barbara, and Lodi still grow the grapes and some make early drinking, natural wine of it
  • A traditional wine and the one that was esteemed at the time was Angelica, a sticky sweet wine that apparently tastes like molasses, dried figs, caramel, and nuts.

The Mission Grape, growing in Lodi, CA. Photo: Lodi Growers Assoc

It’s an interesting time for País. I think this is the beginning of a journey with this grape and we’ll keep you posted on new developments! 

Maule, Itata and Bío Bío are in southern Chile. Map (C) WFNP


Sources to learn more:


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