Chile MW trip
This report cannot be completed without reference to the political challenges that exist across South America and within Chile in particular. Prior to agreeing to visit the country, a thorough assessment of the situation was carried out on a regular basis by liaising with Wines of Chile, the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Santiago; all advised that travel was acceptable but that care should be paid when visiting certain areas and that clearly we should avoid all political rallies and gatherings. The trip was amended to avoid potential ‘flashpoint’ areas, and a Security detail was present at all times during the visit – thankfully there were no incidents involving the trip participants, although there was evidence of rioting at various stages during the visit. Against this background all members were given the option to withdraw from the trip should they feel uncomfortable, which several individuals deciding not to attend. Thankfully a party of some 30 MWs headed out to Santiago in the days before the trip start date, and they enjoyed a thoroughly memorable experience.
It has been 10 years since I last visited Chile, and it is clear that the industry has evolved greatly during this period. A decade ago, the Chilean wine industry was blighted with the ‘Volvo’ tag of being a safe if rather uninspiring producer, offering wines of good quality at appropriately keen prices. Although a few people were already extolling the virtues of Chile as a high quality producing region, these were small isolated voice struggling for the oxygen of good publicity, set against a backdrop of high volume production at competitive prices.
I am therefore delighted to report that the industry is now evolving and moving forward at great pace. Small independent groups of producers, such as MOVI and VIGNO, are now being recognised and actively supported by the generic body Wines of Chile, whilst the large wine companies are increasingly active and engaged in many pioneering winemaking activities. Given the size of the country and its incredible diversity, it is heartening to see a true strategy developing that incorporates the need for Sustainability, and an increased focus on quality, whilst encouraging the development of new and exciting terroirs – be that in Huasco in the Atacama or Osorno and Malleco in the far South. There will be always be recognition for the quality potential of Cabernet based wines from regions such as Punto Alta and Apalta, but it is genuinely exciting to see the rediscovery of old vine Cinsualt, Carignan and Pais in regions such as Itata and Maule, where truly unique wines are now being produced; this historical re-awakening appears to closely mirror the early activities of the Swartland revolution in South Africa (a country with which Chile shares many commercial similarities), and hopefully it will be just as successful in making consumers aware of Chile’s potential to produce interesting quality wines.
Each region has clearly embraced the over-arching story of the role of cooling breezes from the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the impact of early morning fog, and the diverse mix of alluvial and granitic soils within each unique valley, and they can all explain how this impacts upon the style of wine we tasted. Given the size of the country and its incredible diversity needless to say, some regions are more successful than others in transforming themselves from ‘volume’ production to a more quality focussed approach. The drive to discover new and exciting regions is often fraught with difficulties (would you really be happy with an 8% vine failure rate due to soil salinity?), but only by being truly challenging – to the point of foolishness? – will the country fully comprehend what can be achieved. More established cool climate regions, such as Limari, Aconcagua Coast, San Antonio and Marchigua continue to produce outstanding wines, whilst traditional areas such as Maipo Alto continue to showcase Chile’s capacity for production of high quality reds.
Overall, one cannot be anything but impressed with the speed with which cultural change is happening across the industry. Within this there is a spirit of collaboration and innovation that is resulting in the production of some truly outstanding wines that are sure to capture the imagination of new consumers. This can only benefit the country as a whole as Chile strives to reinvent itself as a producer of a diverse range of wines across all price points that can be favourably compared with the best wines available from across the winemaking world.