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.
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