Chile, Legends of Maipo and Colchagua

Chile: 22 September – 13 October 2010

There is an unmistakable feeling when you enter Chile that tragedy struck the country at dawn on February 27th 2010. Indeed, a size 8.9 earthquake reduced many areas to rubble and a tsunami afterwards claimed hundreds of innocent coastal lives. But what is unmistakable is not the feeling of despair in the surroundings, but the hope and triumph of united reconstruction you can feel and breath in the air. We witnessed this and heard the stories in the wineries we visited, even seeing the damages still present, and we were also able to witness the direct efforts being made by two charities, NeSST and Un Techo Para Chile, who are working with the people and Chilean government to comeback from this crippling blow. We will dedicate a special blog to these charities soon, but for now we will share with you the strong-standing greatness of the Chilean wine industry. We owe special thanks to Wines of Chile who guided us through the many valleys that are home to the legendary Chilean vineyards, for their dedication to our project and for sharing with us their culture and heritage.

Already starting with a particularly long history in winemaking, vitis vinifera plantings were brought to Chile in the 16th century when Spanish Conquistadors brought them with their colonization. Since this early time, many revolutions occurred in Chilean winemaking. From the mid 19th century which marked the arrival of French varietals, to the 1980s which brought with it modern winemaking with steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels for aging, every step of the way has led to what we see today. Now, Chile has become the 5th largest exporter of wines worldwide, and the 9th largest producer.

Geographically speaking, Chile is an isolated phenomenon. It has the Andes to the East, the Pacific Ocean to the West, a vast desert to the North and, well, Antarctica to the south. It is supposed that this has resulted in the region remaining relatively pest-free when compared to other wine regions, especially when considering the phyloxera scourge which afflicted almost the entirety of the world. This in combination with Chile’s dry climate has resulted in its ease and natural ability to use organic vineyard management, as we will see in most of the wineries we will discuss. A philosophy geared towards the environment is clearly present at the wineries, even beyond ‘just’ organic farming, with biodynamic practices spreading and with many wineries actively aware of their carbon footprint.

Today we will share our journey with Wines of Chile through two sub valleys encompassed in the Central Valley of Chile, specifically the Maipo and Colchagua regions. Nearly surrounding the Capital of Chile, Santiago, the Central Valley sits almost directly across from Argentina’s Mendoza with the Andes resting nicely in between. Perhaps popularly known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and the ‘Chilean Merlot’ or Carmenere as it was discovered to be, the regions encompassed in the Central Valley create enough varying climates to accommodate just about every grape varietal’s needs.

Maipo-

Concha y Torro: As the largest producer of wines from Latin America and a global leader in the field, Concha y Toro don’t need much of an introduction on our part. Its history though might be another thing, and we dove deep down into its cellars or ‘casilleros’ with the Asian market director Pamela to find out! Founded in 1883 by Don Melchor de Santiago Concha y Toro and his wife, Emiliana Subercaseaux, the couple imported French grape varietals for quality production. Sounds honest enough, so how does the devil get involved? When the Don realized that wines were leaving his cellars unexpectedly by happy yet sneaky townspeople indulging themselves, he created a myth claiming his cellars were haunted by the devil himself! The ploy worked and the townspeople feared going down to the cellar, which coincided not strangely with no more wines disappearing. Local legend though spread and the Casillero del Diablo is now one of the most famous wine labels in the world! Our arrival in 2010 also marked Concha y Torro’s campaign with Manchestor United Football Club, with the two devils teaming up on this momentous occasion!

Santa Rita: The second largest winery in Chile has history just as deep and holds quite a familiar family name from its founder, as it was started in 1880 by Domingo Fernandez Concha. The revolution at Santa Rita for winemaking happened in the 1980s, when the property was acquired by the Claro Group and Owens Illinois Company (main producer of glass containers in the world) who made large investments towards quality technology. Their entry level wine is named ‘120’ after the number of patriots who took refuge in the estate’s cellars during the revolutionary period circa 200 years ago. That’s right, our arrival in Chile marked its 200th anniversary independence! Our stay at Santa Rita was market by the incredible gardens that are present on the site, which envelope the walker in a sense of mystery and beauty as you cross old statues, exotic plants, and see the beautiful mansion in the background!

Odfjell: What are Norwegian Fjord ponies doing in Chile? Well, over 25 years ago Norwegian Armador (ship owner) Dan Odfjell fell in love with this particular corner of the earth and planted vines, only afterwards to discover along with the rest of the world that he had come to one of the best regions for wine on the planet, Maipo. He also brought along the rare ancestral breed of horses, who help during harvest and graze between the vines to keep the grass low. A baby was born the night before our arrival who was already on his feet, and the horses are otherwise used as therapeutic company to help treat disabled children. There’s more in the Odfjell family though and Dan’s son is an architect and designed the winery which sits 60% below ground, using gravity to gently move the wines. And what’s better, the vineyards have been using organic farming practices and next year will be officially certified as organic!

De Martino: A family winery started in 1934 and now in its 4th generation, De Martino is a forward thinking pioneer pushing the Chilean wine industry in sustainability. Not only are they a carbon neutral winery, they are the first winery in the world to actually produce carbon credits too (With the Kyoto Agreement, developed countries were asked to reduce their carbon footprint, and a way was set up to have them invest in projects in developing countries which work to reduce greenhouse gases, just like De Martino’s)! It does this with its Waste Water Treatment Plant which traps carbon gases otherwise release into the air from winery waste waters. Of course, in addition to all of this they’ve also been organic since 1998 and are now currently the second largest producer of organic wine in Chile. We had a great time with the energetic group at De Martino and are very happy to feature their wines at our charity auction!

Colchagua-

Casa Silva: At Casa Silva we saw just how small the wine world was, as enologist, Mario Geisse (the name should sound familiar!), had just welcomed us in Brazil a few weeks before this visit to see his sparkling wine winery there! At Casa Silva he is enologist and on part of a panel of experts that includes the family and enological team which review each wine and cuvee produced, rejecting those not reaching the highest standards. Casa Silva also has an intimate understanding of when to pick the Carmenere grape, a secret they revealed to us which depends on the maturation curves of tannins and sugars particular to this difficult grape, but something which we swore not to reveal! Perhaps it’s these two reasons, or perhaps it’s because of their vines dating as old as from 1912, but whatever it is the fact still remains that Casa Silva has become one of the highest awarded wineries in Chile! It will be great to feature their wines!

Cono Sur: Yes, that’s us in the intro top photo with a part of the team from Cono Sur, biking through the vineyards. This captures best the mentality of sustainability that has led Cono Sur to become one of the biggest organic producers in the country. Their bold motto also does justice to their fresh new attitude, ‘No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine’. Started in 1993, they began their organic farming conversion in 2000. In 2007 they were the first winery in the world to receive Carbon Neutral Delivery status, balancing their CO2 emissions for the shipping of their products. Receiving organic certification is not an easy thing, requiring the vines to grow without any man-made chemicals (including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides), and so Cono Sur remedies these limitations with a variety of natural solutions, such as their ‘vine-leaf-red-bull-booster’ which is a mix of water soaked with natural fertilizer tea-bags, corn, and milk, composted and then spread in the vineyards! It doesn’t smell too bad with all things considered, and results in some the most savory natural grapes to make wine from possible!

Emiliana Organica: is a village of a self-sustaining farming mentality. In the late 1990s Rafael and Jose Guilisasti asked famous organic/biodynamic winemaking consultant Alvaro Espinoza to help them convert a conventional winery into a 100% organic and biodynamic one that integrates nature into its production, respecting the processes of life. The results have been incredible. Espinoza knew that having a monoculture (i.e. just growing one plant, vines) results in outside insects coming in to feed, requiring pesticides that continue a chemical-dependant cycle. So at Emiliana Organica they created plant corridors within the vine rows growing different colored flowers to attract and peacefully harbor a variety of insects. This created a naturally balanced ecosystem, with ‘good’ insects living there as well, eating those that would damage the crops. They also created ‘biodiversity highways’ between vineyard plots, planting indigenous trees and plants in a continuous stretch to ensure a safe place for insects and organisms to travel between vineyards. What’s more, small gardens grow the plants used for their biodynamic treatments, horses walk around ready to be used for plowing, and a garden is available for workers to grow their own vegetables to take home. They also make their own honey and olive oil that workers can sell at the market for their own profit. And what’s more, it’s all set within a backdrop of beautiful mountains, making the whole thing almost surreal!

Casa Lapostolle: Winner of the New World Winery of 2008, Casa Lapostolle is overlooking a beautiful valley, and the winery itself is many stories deep into the ground, with granite left natural to enjoy the beauty of the inside earth. It is definitely an amazing architectural piece and deserves attention for that alone! This setting provides a tranquil gravity flow system, and with a large investment in labor (i.e. with hand destemming!) providing attention to every grape, and ontop of it all with flying winemaker consultant Michel Rolland guiding the process, it’s no wonder Clos Apalta has been receiving high recognition around the world. In 2008 Casa Lapostolle’s wine Clos Apalta 2005 received the wine spectator’s award for number 1 wine of the year! What’s more, our auction will feature a magnum of this award winning wine! We owe special thanks to enologist Andrea León for inviting us here, giving this amazing contribution, and sharing the inside of Casa Lapostolle!

Vina Montes: Just as most of the biodynamic wineries we would come across on our trip were nestled in the foothills of the west side of the Andes, it seemed appropriate then that we would discover the only Feng Shui winery of our trip in the same district. A mentality towards serenity, systems, and balance are what unite the two philosophies. Although perhaps better known for its history of the four prevailing friends working hard to break ground in the Chilean wine industry revolution, and for the success of its labels ‘Montes Alpha’ and ‘Purple Angel’, we discovered that Vina Montes’ facilities, completed in 2004, are grounded in a lesser known fact: They have been built to respect all requirements of a Feng Shui architecture. Fountains around the winery all flow towards the center of the building, and a beam of natural light penetrates the ceiling distinguishing this point, the source of the winery’s spiritual energy. A special Feng Shui consultant came in to oversee this ordering, also checking that each element of the building, from water to metal to wood, was correctly positioned in accordance to the ancient Chinese philosophy, and the color red balances where necessary. It is claimed that with all of these things in line, it assures harmony and creates an environment for people which promotes confidence and wellbeing! And though it’s not obligatory for the philosophy, Vina Montes goes a step beyond and plays Gregorian chants in its barrel room, so the wine gets the most out tranquility possible!

Thanks!

~Anja and Georges, signing off with a photo of Emiliana Organica!

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