Henry Yuen (Chinese posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )
Chile’s wine regions:
From North to South: Elqui Valley, Limari Valley, Choapa Valley, Aconcagua Valley, Casablanca Valley, Santonio/Leyda Valley, Maipo Valley, Rapel/Cachapoal Valley, Rapel/Colchagua Valley, Curico Valley, Maule Valley, Itata Valley, Bio Bio Valley, Malleco Valley.
Chile’s wine production:
Total vineyard area: 117, 559 hectare
Total red varieties: 88, 703 hectare 75%
Total white varieties: 28, 856 hectare 25%
Cabernet Sauvignon: 40766 hectare
Merlot: 13283 hectare
Sauvignon Blanc: 8862 hectare
Chardonnay: 8733 hectare
Carmenere: 7284 hectare
Syrah: 3513 hectare
Pinot Noir: 1413 hectare
Wine tours are not only about tasting different wines at various wineries. This 6-day Chilean wine tour gave us the opportunity to understand the philosophy of each winery and embrace what the industry and individual organizations are striving for. It involved conversations with the winemakers and the proprietors that allowed first-hand comprehension of their missions, visions, focuses and aspirations. The week spent on the vineyard slopes, the tasting rooms and close encounters with the hard-working folks at the front, centre and behind each bottle who truly are the trailblazers which helped build what Chilean wine industry is today, are nothing short of an eye-opener that kept our minds and palates going at high speed!
Here are my observations on Chilean's current wine industry:
1/ Trending towards single-vineyard wines: Definitely a pleasant and worthy direction I say. Most wineries consequently produce a top tier wine label that emphasizes on grapes from a single vineyard. The goal is to showcase that particular terroir and the skill of the winemaker to infuse minimal intrusion to the wine. Without blending grapes from different terroirs, the objective is to highlight the distinctiveness of a certain region or specific area. Even though some of us close to the industry might go a further step wanting to know the name of the vineyard on the label; however, detailed names of the valley and vineyards on the labels, from a commercial point of view, could be too much information for the public to chew at time of purchase.
2/ The emphasis on vineyard management is very much alive and coveted: Another development that strengthened the progress of the overall industry. This return the land to its natural state through healthy vineyard practices is inarguably a strong impetus; a noble respect for the surrounding environment and habitat which at the end benefits all lives and forms. There are vineyards which employ horses instead of tractors to work around the vineyard to reduce carbon emission and facilitate the idea of using the horse manure as natural fertilizer. Birds and animals are encouraged to roam the land to provide the natural balance. Wild yeast or natural yeast is also popular in the fermentation process to enhance the “as close to land as possible” philosophy. Besides vineyard being organic, the progression is to the stage of biodynamic farming practices.
3/ New concept, new practice, new era: From a winemaking perspective, the era of too much oak influence is over. Nowadays, winemakers are generally crafting wines with less oak treatment to allow the natural fruit characteristics of the wine to flow. Instead of using entirely new French oak, most are using re-used French oak or introducing the wine to less time in new oak barrels. As a result, wines are fresher on the palate without too much of the oaky or smokiness that could overpower the essence of the wine.
4/ Second or third generation winemakers bring in youthful energy and longevity to the industry: Of course, the winemakers from various parts of Europe honing their skills and passing on their expertise are significant to Chile’s wine making industry. But the new generation who are relatively younger in age are full of zeal, passion and a brand new tech mind. They are armed with formal training through universities and structured courses and the willingness to take on challenges. Most unveil an air of confidence, welcome the competition but never downplay each other’s effort and value. To me, this is the group that is positively forward in their thinking and action, is well-versed in the global wine perspective to give Chilean wines a bright future. The old and experienced working hand-in-hand with the young and deft has no doubt formed a strong force, one that is shining through the bottles of Chilean wines enjoyed in many more countries than before.
Though short, the trip was nonetheless an eye-opener which gradually turned into admiration and humble respect. Bravo to you all – our Chilean winemakers and their team members!