by CECILIA ALARCÓN SALINAS
International wine consultant
My last trip to Chile was remarkable and surprising at the same time. I started in the San Antonio valley, with their terrific white wine and pinot from cool climate, then I stopped briefly in Colchagua valley and finally arrived at Maule and Itata wine regions. This journey focused on rediscovering a part of the Chilean wine history and ancestral traditions, by visiting wineries and meet the growers, winemakers and professionals, who currently are contributing to changing the image of Chilean viticulture.
The new trends in the Chilean wine industry are marked by the big steps taken during the last 15-20 years, a revolutionary and very dynamic era with great innovations, where the new generation of winemakers and producers are looking for new territories, soils with specific geographical and climatic conditions, where the new frontiers of wine production are making the difference, with their unique sense of place and identity for new, distinguished wines.
Added to this development of the territory, there is a new interest in recovering “traditional grape varieties” and “old vines,” and Chilean ancestral winemaking techniques. Today, those vines, Uva País and Moscatel de Alejandría, which originally were introduced by the Spanish conquerors aJesuit missionaries during the 15th and 17th missionaries during the 15th and 17th - centuries.
Later, during the 18th and 21st centuries, French varieties, as Cinsault, Carignan, Semillon, were introduced, and now are representing an invaluable “wine heritage” and part of a fascinating “Chilean reservoir.” The Chilean “genetic variety heritage” is, step by step, leading the way for new trends in the Chilean viticulture and drawing the attention of many winemakers and international buyers. Today, Maule and Itata wine regions (including Bio-Bio) have entered into a new development stage, thanks to the vision of entrepreneurs and the new generation of passionate winemakers.
There are two important initiatives from wine associations in Maule to revalue ancient grape varieties; one is VIGNO, “Vignadores del Carignan,” which has recovered the production of Carignan grapes, and the other is ALMAULE, which is a new associative project to revalue the grape País. Both initiatives have created their trademarks, www.vigno.org, @almaule.cl In Itata, “Valle del Itata Enoturismo Ancestral”, a project is ongoing to promote wine tourism in the Itata Valley: https:// rutadelvinoitata.com
Why is it so special with all those old vines, and which are their main characteristics?
The “dry-farmed vineyards” in the vast territories called “Secano Interior,” located in the Central and South valleys (Between Maule, Ñuble and Bio-Bio Regions) south of Santiago (260 km), and the “Secano Costero”, located mainly in the Coastal range.
Many of the wines produced from dry-farmed vineyards come from 100-150 years old healthy ungrafted vines, free of Phylloxera. The traditional ancestral goblet system is typical in dry-farmed vineyards, where the leaves foliage gives protection to the grapes from the sun and warm summers, and decades by decades those vines have been resistant, growing in extremely drought conditions.
Other characteristics in the Itata valley are that many of the small producers maintain ancestral cultivations of Moscatel de Alejandria and País, mixed with Torontel, Chasselas, San Francisco and Cinsault grapes, which gives an enchanting landscape and a unique local wine production (Pipeño, Chicha, Chacoli, Asoleado wines).
The history of Chilean viticulture and its old vines is in full evolution. Certainly, a fascinating task for many researchers, winegrowers, winemakers and for Chilean authorities to expose this great vine heritage worldwide, a heritage that represents the basis of today’s refashioning of Chilean wine production.
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Photo Credit: CECILIA ALARCÓN SALINAS