Geographically speaking Chile is like the Never, Never Land of wine. A long and narrow stretch of land blessed with unique conditions to produce a wide variety of wines. Chile is isolated by the Atacama Desert in the north, The Andes in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and the ice fields of Patagonia in the south. Yet, everything in the middle seems to be a dreamland for producing some seriously delicious wine.
The consistency of Chilean wine has been one of its biggest assets. At the same time, wine professionals around the globe criticize Chile for being too “boring”. A nationwide "vinous snoozefest". But Chilean wine industry is not standing still.
New Horizons of Chilean Wine Industry
“It’s an interesting time for Chilean wine industry”, says Viviana Navarrete, the Chief Winemaker of Viña Leyda. Viviana, who is recognized as one of Chile’s top winemakers. “The lower tier might be boring but there is a lot of things going on in Chile. There are many small wineries experimenting with different grape varieties. Nowadays, even big wineries are doing wines that have an identity with a potential to age in the bottle."
Chile is known for these so-called icon wines - like Don Maximiano from Viña Errázuriz and Don Melchor from Concha y Toro - that really put Chile on the map. But there is so much more Chile can offer. “These icon wines will remain but less oak and less alcohol is a big movement in Chile”, Viviana adds.
“The Chilean wine industry is taking a few steps back. There are winemakers still concentrating on Merlot and Carmenere but they are harvesting earlier, adding fewer things in the wine and they use less oak to produce a fruitier style of wines. That point of change happened because people are more confident in their work. They are making more ‘honest’ wines and not doing wines just for the scores.”
País, Chile’s underdog grape variety, is currently gaining momentum, together with Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.
Good climate, good wine
Wineries are also looking for cooler climates near the coast and up the Andes. “ Cool climate wines shows a different face of Chile. Up north, in Elqui, there is a project up in the mountains called Viñedos de Alcohuaz. A small producer that is making beautiful wines from one of the highest commercial vineyards in Chile. Down south in Itata and Malleco there are new vineyards planted with País. Previously it was used for bulk wine but people have rediscovered it and started to make beautiful wines.”
Chile is known for good climate conditions but the past couple of harvests have been difficult. “2015 was a very cold vintage which delayed the harvest about 20 days. But in the end, the quality was pretty good. 2016 was very challenging because we had some rain in April. It rained 115 mm in two days, normally we get that amount in three months during winter. That hasn’t happened in Chile for 50 years. It was a disaster for the red grape varieties. It really opened our eyes. 2017 was one of the warmest vintages and the harvest was approximately one month early. Going from a rainy vintage to a hot one makes you aware of the global climate change.”
The Future of Chilean Wine
The consistency of Chile hangs in the balance which forces winemakers to act. “We have to rethink everything. Rethink the vineyard practices, rethink the moment of the harvest and even rethink the domestic holidays because hiring people for harvest in the middle of their vacation is difficult.”
Perhaps because of these ordeals, Chilean wine gets more variation and desired character “flaws” some people have been looking for. Chile is no newbie in the wine scene but it looks like there is still plenty of potential.