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Make diversity Chile's calling card, urge producers

Published:  27 February, 2013

A diversity of varieties, styles and soils are Chile's greatest asset, but it must work harder to relay that message to consumers, according to leading producers.

"The future of Chile depends on being able to communicate to the customer the fact that we do not only offer good value or affordable wines," said Ricardo Baettig, winemaker director at Morandé.

"The Chilean industry needs to focus on quality wines, and for that we need people thinking in the long-term. Chile is much more than good value wines or a bunch of icon wines, but it must be proved," he told Harpers.

Baettig added that Chile "must increase its diversity in terms of varietals" and continue to study specialised areas to determine which soil, climate and clones create the best quality wines.

Chile has successfully established "a clear New World identity", according to Justin Knock, winemaking consultant at bottling specialist Cobevco, "however, the landscape does need more diversity from a style and scale point of view".

"We are only just beginning to see the devolution of talented winemakers from the larger wineries into their own projects, something which has driven innovation in Australia, South Africa and California over the past two decades," he said.

Knock identified the Maule Valley, which "has long been seen as a workhorse region for grape growing", as one of the most exciting areas in Chile, with its trials of high-quality old vine Carignan, old vine Pais and blends with lesser-known varietals such as Sangiovese, Malbec, Carignan and Pinot Noir.

Varieties for the future

With an enormous coastline at its disposal, Chile "could really pull some weight" with Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, claims Cono Sur's winemaking manager Matías Ríos.

"Forging our own identity is essential because Chile is such a unique country with an amazingly diverse selection of winemaking regions," he said, adding that "the potential is endless" so long as producers "take chances and do more research".

Chile has more to offer than just Cabernet Sauvignon, according to Viña Leyda winemaker Viviana Navarrete, who believes producers should focus on varieties that work best in particular terroirs. "For example, in our Single Vineyard line, we have three different Pinot Noirs, that come from different vineyards, exposure and soils, and they show three different styles of Pinot Noir," Navarrete said.

Focusing on radical areas "where growers, consultants and teachers said that it was not viable to grow grapes" is Viña Casa Marin, which is experimenting in Lo Abarca in San Antonio with Grenache, Sauvignon Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Export manager Jamie Verbraak highlighted the region as "the top terroir to produce the most expensive and best quality white wines from the country".

Torres has been experimenting with a 369ha site in Empedrado, which it bought in 2003, and planted 44ha with vines. The slate soil vineyards are close to the coast near to Constitución and 180km from Curicó.

The producer initially began trialling a number of varieties such as Garnacha and Carignan but the site was too cool, resulting in the vineyards being regrafted with Pinot Noir.

Also focusing on innovation is Santa Carolina Winery, which claims to be the first Chilean winery to launch a 100% premium Mourvèdre in 2010.

Between 2007 and 2010, the winery also carried out extensive research into Chile's wine regions and bought 70 different small growers' selection lots from north to south. "From these vineyards blocks a new project was inspired, called Specialties, with the aim to show the best terroir expression in the wines," said chief winemaker Andrés Caballero.