Besides helping with the harvest at Viña Alpa, I took advantage of my time in Chile to visit several other wineries: Viña Cousiño Macul, Concha y Toro, and Kingston Family Vineyards. The first two were just outside of Santiago in the Maipo Valley, and the third was in the Casablanca Valley. The Maipo Valley was one of the first wine regions in Chile, and it is known for Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the specialty of Cousiño Macul, and their Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded throughout the world.
Both Cousiño Macul and Concha y Toro are old vineyards that were started in the 1800s and have continued to grow and expand. Today, Concha y Toro is the largest wine producer in Chile and is actually one of the largest in the world. I visited the original Maipo facility, but they now have vineyards throughout Chile.
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
The third vineyard, Kingston Family Vineyard, is a much smaller vineyard in the Casablanca Valley that has only been in the wine business since the late 1990s. The Casablanca Valley had been established as a wine region for white grapes, especially Sauvignon Blanc, but Kingston partnered with some Californian vineyards and brought Pinot Noir to the region.
These three vineyards were all quite different and provided a nice intro to the breadth of the Chilean wine industry. Chile has 12 wine regions, with a huge variation in climate and soil, so there is still so much more to see, and I need to plan another trip someday . . .
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Viña Alpa during the grape harvest. Viña Alpa is a small estate producer in the Coquimbo region of Chile. This region is mostly known for Pisco production, but Viña Alpa focuses on red grapes such as Syrah, Carménère, and also has some small plots of Grenache and Mourvèdre.
Viña Alpa participates in the World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms program to recruit volunteers. For this year’s harvest, there were six of us volunteering. It was hard work, but the scenery was gorgeous. We worked up and down the rows to hand snip the grape bunches off of the vine. As we collected the grapes, the full buckets were transported up to the barn, where they were destemmed and crushed. The juice and skins were funneled directly into tanks to begin fermenting.
Winemaker Arnaud Faupin shared his expertise with us and taught us how to monitor the fermentation by measuring the temperature and the density. The vineyard is organic and the wine-making is done with minimal use of electricity and machinery. The results of this artisanal process are unique and delicious small batch wines, only available in Chile.
Pisco is a brandy made by distilling grapes. The brandy is produced in Peru and the northern regions of Chile and is most often made from the Pedro Jiménez, Torontel or Muscat grapes. Chilean Pisco is usually aged in oak for several years, while most Peruvian Pisco is bottled straight out of the still. There is a debate between the two countries as to who makes the better Pisco, as well as who can lay claim to the Pisco Sour as their national cocktail. The recipe for a Chilean Pisco Sour is quite simple: pisco, lemon juice, and sugar, shaken vigorously with crushed ice, and optional bitters. The Peruvian version uses lime juice and bitters, as well as an egg white for froth. Although, I have not been to Peru, there are many Peruvian restaurants in Chile, so I able to try both styles… They are both refreshing and perfect as an aperitif. However, I slightly prefer the Chilean style, without the egg-white foam. ¡Salud!
After WWII, Chilean wine production declined dramatically, and the Chilean exports were reduced to a few large producers.
However in the 1980s, there were changes in the government’s economic policies and a renewed interest from international wine makers, which started a resurgence of the wine industry in Chile. One of the key international players was Spain’s Miguel Torres, who purchased a vineyard in Chile and introduced modern wine making technologies to the Chilean wine makers. Torres was a key inspiration of Alfonso Chadwick Errázuriz of Vina Errázuriz, who spent a great deal of time in Europe to gain recognition for Chilean wine. He organized the “Berlin Tasting” in 2004, which pitted prestigious French and Italian wines against 6 Chilean wines. To the surprise of all, two of Errázuriz’s wine came in first and second place, beating out the famed Chateau Lafite. Even with renewed international appreciation, the Chilean wine industry continued to be dominated by larger wineries such as Concha y Toro. However, recently there is a push to provide more opportunities for smaller, artisanal producers, with organizations such as MOVI and VIGNO.
In the coming weeks, I will be traveling to Chile, and I hope to share with you much more insight and inspiration for drinking Chilean wines. Salud!
Photo Credit: Food & Beverage Magazine
Chile has a long history of wine production, dating back to the 16th century, when the Spanish colonists brought vitis vinifer. Later various French varieties were imported, and in the 20th century, Chile established itself as an important player in the global wine market. Vineyards can be found throughout the country, growing both red and white grapes. The most common varietals are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Noir
Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape, Carménère has become the signature grape of Chile. Originally a French variety, it was believed to have been lost during the phylloxera epidemic in Europe, but was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s. You can read more about Carménère in last year’s April Grape of the Month post.
For more information about Chilean Wine…
Name: Terrapura Carménère
Region: Colchagua Valley, Chile
Grape Varieties: Carménère
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Pairing: Almond M&Ms, an unconventional pairing, but I think the candy goes well with the fruity character of the wine.
Age: Youthful/Some Age
Scent: Strawberry and cherry
Flavors: Strawberry, but cherry is a bit more tart, and also a hint of pepper/herbal flavor
Finish: Short(3 sec)
I missed March, but I’m back for April with the long lost grape, Carménère. This grape originates from France and was thought to have gone extinct after Europe’s phylloxera plague in the mid-19th century. However, it was rediscovered in the 1990s when several Chilean vineyards found Carménère intermingled among their Merlot vines. Since then, it has become the national grape of Chile. Around the same time, Carménère was also found masquerading as Cabernet Franc in a couple of Italian vineyards.
Seeing as Carménère has been mistaken for both Merlot and Cabernet, it shares many similarities with those grapes. However, Carménère has a shorter ripening time, which usually results in less tannins and lighter body than Cab Sauv and Merlot. As such, Carménère does not require much aging. Typical fruit flavors for Carménère are raspberry and cherry. Many Carménère wines also have a vegetal flavor of green pepper, as well as smokey and/or earthy characteristics.