Chilean Wine Personal Notes
“Oh, Chile largo pétalo “Oh, Chile, long petal
de mar y vino y nieve” of sea and wine and snow”
Even as a final year High School and college student, I was always different in terms of what I liked to drink at social events. Wine !. Not much beer and vodka and no whisky, nor dry martinis. Working as a tour guide taking visitors to the vineyards was a new experience. We were not exactly welcome. Conversations with a good friend, later to become a leading winemaker – Felipe de Solminhiac – , say it all:
1994, at the Gate of Aquitania Vineyard:
Alvaro we don’t receive tourists. Our business is to produce wine. Because we are friends, I will open the door for you just this time. Please, don’t insist !!·
2010, at the Gate of Aquitania Vineyard:
Welcome you all. Good to see you. Álvaro, when are you coming back with more visitors. 35% of our actual sales are at the Vineyard !
Throughout history, poetry and quotes from visionary wise men have expressed thoughts and quotes which wine lovers enjoy reading and listening to over and over again. Here I will share a couple of them.
- “Where there is no wine there is no love” Eurípides
- “There is truth in wine and children” – Plato
- “Good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people”- Shakespeare
- “Be careful to trust someone who does not like wine” – Karl Mark
To make a fine wine it takes a madman to cultivate the vine
A wise one to regulate it,
A lucid artist to make the wine,
A lover to drink it, and
A poet to sing its glory, Salvador Dalí
Throughout these long and intense years we have witnessed the positive and amazing evolution of our “Vines and wines of Chile”. From the traditional classic French school focused mainly on the production of the Cabernet Sauvignon to the unimaginable reappearance of the Carmenere and the discovery of the Casablanca Valley which would become the home of the whites – mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – to which we now add the Pinot Noir.
Becoming a sister valley with Napa Valley has been an important touch of recognition.
Carménère, the Lost Grape of Bordeaux. Known as the ‘grandfather’ of the Medoc región of Bordeaux varieties, Carménère is one of the oldest noble grape varieties of Europe. In 1867 the Phylloxera plague destroyed almost all the vineyards in Europe, affecting in particular Carménère vineyards which were very susceptible to the disease and not easily grafted after the plague. Thus it was believed extinct for over 100 years.
Agronomists didn’t know that on the other side of the world, Carménère was alive and well, as phylloxera never reached Chile. In fact, on the 24th November 1994 the French Professor, Jean-Marie Boursiquot, together with the winemaker Claude Valat, noticed that some “Merlot” vines took longer to ripen, and after much analysis discovered that these vineyards had been confused with Merlot, but were in fact Carménère. This discovery was not only significant for Chile but also for the entire wine world, as it was thought to have been definitely extinct.
Today, Chile is home to more than 90% of the world’s Carménère plantations and it has become our signature wine.
Chile’s great class of winemakers, with their adventurous and creative minds, such as Ignacio Recabarren, Alvaro Espinoza and Marcelo Retamal deserve special recognition for successfully challenging the traditional wine making establishment, giving the headlines – amongst other proposals – to turn Chile “into the largest producer in the world of wines from organic and biodynamically farmed vineyard”s.
The Berlin Tasting, a Milestone in the History of Chilean Wine Industry, took place the 23rd of January 2004, when thirty-six of Europe’s most highly regarded wine experts met in Berlin to blind taste sixteen wines. That day Viñedo Chadwick 2000 and Seña 2001 were selected first and second, respectively, in their lists of preferences.
In an historic decision, established French classics such as Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Latour, and Italian cult wines including Tignanello, Sassicaia, Solaia and Guado al Tasso, – from the iconic 2000 and 2001 harvest – , were placed by the judges a distance behind the two Chilean wines.
Needless to say that this good example has been followed and improved by the Movement of Independent Vintners, the new rebels, that is, young winemakers who are challenging the establishment with new, provocative and “transgressive” proposals of blends and use of new neglected vines such mission and carignan. Let’s thank them for that !
Likewise, international wine writers have mellowed their well founded initial description of Chilean wines of the 90’s as “good value, but boring” or the very British condemnatory line – “Oh, very interesting, indeed”, meaning awful, to the present complements of “amazing” for some of them. These changes make it worth coming to visit the Wine Trails of Chile.
It is fair to add the solitary, determined and successful international career of Héctor Vergara to lead a new generation of local sommeliers who have won a space to educate consumers in the indispensable partnership with gastronomy.
Of course, restaurants hiring the best “chefs” have become the new contribution along with deluxe hotels in world class destinations such as San Pedro de Atacama; Santiago and Valparaíso in the Central Valley; The Wine Country around the Colchagua Valley; The Lake District and the Chiloé Island in the south of the country and, last but not least, Patagonia and Rapanui (Former Easter Island) with their own and distinctive magic.
We face the wake of a new cycle of changes – which needs to see the results of the Chinese determination to become big players, both as producers and consumers, with their own glasses of wines in their hands.
The challenge today is to be in a constant creative attitude and search of new initiatives that definitively make the niche more uncomplicated, profitable and fun.
If this is the case, we are all winners.
To the benefit of all of us – wine lovers – the evolution of the Chilean wine industry includes a better understanding of the key link and basic principle of “be kind to visitors” . It can be summed up – all together with good cheese, some nuts, fruits and bitter chocolate – in the wording of Pablo Neruda, immortalised in his Oda al Vino (Ode to Wine):
‘I like on the table,
when we’re speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine…’