The RAW Wine Fair kicks off in London this weekend, and you’ll be able to catch our Chilean producer Renan Cancino (Huaso de Sauzal) at the two-day festival. So ahead of this, we thought we’d delve into Chile’s burgeoning wine landscape, and shine a light on our exciting portfolio.
Historically, Chile’s wine scene has been led by large-scale, wealthy producers with little in the way of boutique, pioneering estates. It has the largest average winery size of any country, many either producing mass entry-level wines, or modelling themselves on powerful Bordeaux/Cabernet styles.
Recently, however, this landscape has been changing, thanks to a small, committed movement of young, new-generation winemakers, who are turning heads with their human-scale, authentic and, often very traditional approach to Chilean winemaking.
MOVI (Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes) can be accredited with drawing attention to this uprising, and VIGNO, a new co-op movement, has even developed its own covert DO for dry-farmed Carignan. For wine lovers and adventurers, these two trailblazers have started something exciting.
This growing number of visionary young “viñateros” are bringing long lost strains of vinicultural artifacts back to life, creating startlingly unique, complex and bold wines. Each of them with a unique story to tell.
All in the South
The majority of Chilean wine is produced in and around Santiago, where Cabernet from regions such as DO Colchagua and DO Maipu are heralded as the heart of premium winemaking. Styles typically are generous and ripe, aiming for body, intensity and power, over freshness, balance of fruit and elegance. Down south, from where the young, maverick winemakers are rising, it’s a different story.
The southern landscape and culture starts to change as you venture towards Concepción; where DO Maule, Itata and Bio Bio can be found. Here, the wines are gloriously fresh with a focus on minimum intervention. Stylish wines with huge sommelier appeal and individuality are out there, and, if you dig deep there are some real gems to be discovered.
However, until recently, wine culture in the south was commonly rebuked; seen as basic, provincial winemaking, and País, the indigenous grape, was dismissed as a gutter grape, not fit for making fine wines. Today the tables are starting to turn, as all the big powerful wineries, in a bid to keep up with times, are starting to invest in these up-and-coming regions. In the right hands, País is capable of making some exceptional wines with vibrant fruit, tension, complexity and elegance.
Laberinto – Maule
Located at the foothills of the Andes, in an eastern mountainous region of the Maule Valley, this winery sits 600m above sea level, and is considered the coolest spot in Chile. Rafael Tirado is the creator of, and winemaker at this small, family-owned outfit. Rafael makes bracingly fresh Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Franc blend.
The vines are planted in unusual curves, including two vine labyrinths. These labyrinths were planted with the aim of achieving more complexity through varying exposures of the fruit to the sun. This is a family project, and since 1993 their intention has been to make human-scale, gastronomic wines for the family to enjoy. What started out as half a hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon has grown into 18ha of vines, and Rafael’s Sauvignon Blanc is fast gaining notoriety. These wines are made with food in mind – think ceviche and oysters: they’re seriously mineral with incredible poise and elegance.
Huaso de Sauzal – Maule
Renán Cancino makes very traditional wine in a small town called Sauzal in the Maule region. He works with vines that are up to 300 years old, and produces wines without any modern technology, spraying, or sulphites. Fermentation takes place in outside lagares, de-stemming is manual using a bamboo salander, natural yeasts, gentle, manual pigeage, free-run juice followed by a gentle press using rocks (delicately placed on top of the grapes). The soils here are of granitic origin, with a naturally higher pH.
Climatically, Sauzal is in the valley, but geographically is farther in the interior and closer to the coastal range, with a wider thermal variation and a stronger influence of the cold towards autumn. Renán studied agronomy and gained experience in a co-op before he could resist the urge no longer: in 2008 he began experimenting. Using his family’s grapes, he began making wines the natural way – just as it had been done for centuries. All wine in Sauzal is natural, both in concept and in origin – this is not a faddish turn. These hand-crafted wines are beautifully unique.
Terroir Sonoro – Itata, Bio Bio
Juan Ledesma is a jazz musician and an erudite, artistic soul who made his first vintage in 2013 after discovering 300-year-old vines in Itata and Bio Bio. With a growing suspicion that everything he had learnt studying agronomy was a lie, he set out on a winemaking mission to support local growers in a quest to make exceptional wines, with the hallmarks of quality and verve.
Juan’s methods are both unusual and pioneering. Lees are suspended by the resonance of jazz music that he composes, records and then plays into the wine when it’s ageing in barrel. This combines two visions – the science of using sound waves to mimic battonage and the emotional link to jazz. A lot of his inspiration, including the names of his wines, are taken from his hero, Chilean poet, artist and scientist Nicanor Parra.
The fires our support
In January this year, Chile suffered from devastating fires, they were widespread from Colchagua through Curicó, down to Maule Itata and Bio Bio. Nearly 700sq miles of land was ravaged by more than 100 fires. Some of the worst affected areas were down in the south, where our Chilean Trifecta reside, and it’s the small traditional farmer that has been affected the most.
Our producers have suffered: some have lost old vines, others will see damage from the smoke, and as their partner, Enotria&Coe feels strongly that we have a responsibility to support them during this hardship. So, for every bottle that’s sold of all of these wines, we’ll donate £0.50 into an accrued pot, which will be sent out to the three producers at the end of the year, to contribute towards helping them restore their vineyards.