Christian CALLEC

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Posted by Christian Callec on dinsdag, september 24th, 2013

Chile is certainly one of the fastest moving wine countries in the world. In the past decades, Chile moved from the 19th to the 21st Century. The monopolistic position of the old big companies producing big amounts of ‘affordable’, ‘reliable’ and ‘pretty drinkable’ wines for the supermarkets has been challenged by mid-size and small independent companies. Their success became so important that even the biggest companies started to focus in some high quality small projects. The Chilean wine industry is going through a huge vitivinicultural, social, economic, sustainable and environmental quality (r)evolution. Chilean wines became a tremendous success story, and I do believe that this is going to go on better and better in the next decades. It is time for synergy, time for complementarity and solidarity, instead of useless internal divisions. Chile can and will grow up to one of the top-10 quality wine countries in the world. The new changes in the vitivinicultural classification are just the next step in the right direction!   


A quest for new terroirs between the coastal cordillera along the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains

(Source: proCHILE presentation made by Rafael Urrejola, chief winemaker Undurraga, Netherlands September 9th 2013)

Chile has a blessed geo-climatic situation for viticulture: Mediterranean climate with a rainy winter, a long dry season in spring and summer, moderate heat in summer (<32°C), high temperature variations between day and night, intense sunlight, a total yearly rainfall average of 350-1000 mm (rarely in the summer)… There is no phylloxera, no downy mildew, no hail, no bird attacks, a high diversity of soil types and (micro) climates.

In the past decades, Chile underwent a real terroir revolution; that happened not only thanks to a huge increasing of small, independent quality wineries, but also through special small scales projects from large and mid-sized wineries. A new and very interesting trend is the revival and rescue of nearly lost ancestral techniques and grape varieties. Another big change is that some smaller producers joined forces to get a better competition position regarding the old quasi monopolistic position of the big companies on the market of bottles, packaging and promotion. 

Terroir study, Casa Silva Los Lingues – © Christian Callec

The search for new terroirs has brought new wine regions, some unexpected extreme, like Elqui Valley, Talinay in Limari Valley, Zapallar, Lo Abarca, Cauquenes, Lolol, Marchihue and many more in colder and wetter Southern regions of Itata, Bío Bío, Malleco and even Patagonia! The old big wine regions of the Central Valley have been replaced by more specific Valley zones. However, even if that was already a huge improvement, it is still not really realistic any more. The search of new terroirs, mostly in cool (micro) climate zones have made clear that the differences between the   coastal, central and Andes zones within the same valley were too big to fit in just one appellation. Those valley appellations were just giving a differentiation from north to south, not from west to east. For that reason, a new classification of the vitivinicultural zones has been created, adding to the north / south divisions in valleys a west / east differentiation into a coastal (Costa), a central (Entre Cordilleras) and an Andes zone. These new zones are explicitly taking count of the differences in soil types (fluvial, alluvial, colluvial, volcanic deposits on the mother rock). Near to the Andes, alluvial soils are dominant, more to the west sedimentary soils (loam, red clay) and in the Costa zone granite or clay and chalk. The (micro) climate differences are also better classified: in the western zone (Costa) the sea to earth breezes cool the vineyards and bring some humidity. In the eastern part (Andes, piedmont) the earth to sea breezes bring more cold and dry air. This has a big influence on the temperature, much warmer in the central zone (Entre Cordilleras) and Andes than in the coastal (Costa) zone.

Want to understand it better? Please watch this fantastic VIDEO!

This should give to the real wine minded consumers a better indication of the type of wine they can expect. Unfortunately, this is not a mandatory classification. So no one is forced to use it. You can imagine that all the big companies producing low range wines will just go on selling their ‘Central Valley’ wines just because most consumers are used to it and it is much easier to produce wines with the same taste every year when you can use grapes from north to south in the huge central valley… But I am quite sure that the clever, smaller quality wineries will use it, just to make clear that they are different. This new classification is a blessing for the connoisseurs but will not have much influence on the big group of mass consumers. For the real wine lover is this of course extra interesting, offering a new way to discover the best terroirs of Chile.

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