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Ventisquero: Chilean winemakers taking more risks than Argentinians

Published:  24 February, 2012

Chilean winemakers are taking risks and experimenting with plantings, while their Argentinian neighbours are "playing it safer".

That's according to Viña Ventisquero's chief winemaker Felipe Tosso, who said Chileans are planting "really risky vineyards" in the desert or high in the Andes, and pushing the boundaries.

Ventisquero has experimental plantings in Huasco, in the Atacama desert 22 km from the sea, and Leyda, while other wineries have planted vineyards at 2,500m. He said the combination of altitudes, proximity to the sea, and arid soils made for interesting results.

"Chile is about risks - in Argentina there are a lot of French and Italian winemakers now, they're playing it a bit safer." He added that they don't have the same diversity of soils as in Chile.

"Back in the 90s the exchange rate was amazing, the export market was booming in Chile. It was easy to make any type of wine and sell it to the Americans. It was Merlot mania," said Tosso. Now, however, Chilean winemakers are looking to expand their repertoires, he said.

Ventisquero, which means snowdrift or icefield in Spanish, is owned by Gonzálo Vial. Vial owns an agricultural empire worth $2bn. The wine estate includes properties in seven different Chilean states - from Huasco in the Atacama desert, to Lolol in the south of the Colchagua Valley. The estate's first harvest was in 2000 and it now employs five winemakers.

"Our first Pinot Noirs in Chile 20 years ago were pretty bad," admitted Tosso, who said more travel and more experienced winemakers had helped improve the wines. "We have a style we're going for that has more elegance and finesse. There have been big changes in the last four or five years."

Right now Tosso has a four-hectare plot of Pinot Noir vines in Huasco and has just completed the second vintage. The area gets just 3mm of rain a year, but has a dense, wet fog known as 'la camanchaca' each morning. Tosso is considering other projects with Riesling and Viognier in Huasco and Carignan and Grenache in Apalta.

Ventisquero's premium Pinot Noir Herú and its Vertice (a blend of Carmenère and Syrah) are available from PLB in the UK.