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Published:  23 July, 2008

by Monty Waldin

Several of Chile's largest exporters including Jos Canepa, Via San Pedro and Concha y Toro, have begun organic vineyard conversion projects. Chile's system of organic certification is unacceptable to the EU, so producers wishing to sell wines in the UK labelled as "made from organically grown grapes" must work with non-Chilean certifiers who are accredited by the EU. The Institute for Market Ecology (IMO), a Swiss/ German organic certifier with some of the world's strictest organic standards, is overseeing the conversion of more than 500 hectares of organic vineyards in Chile (which has a national total of around 80,000ha). Via Carmen claims to have produced Chile's first organic wine range with its Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, made by Alvaro Espinoza. The debut 1998 vintage was shipped to the UK by Stevens Garnier and retails in Oddbins for around 10. However, the wines were certified organic by the Chilean Corporacin de Promocin Organica Agropecuaria (PROA), which is not accredited by the EU, and so Via Carmen and Stevens Garnier are working to gain EU-accredited organic certification. Via La Fortuna has run into the same difficulty with its range of PROA-certified organic wines. The first organic wine to be sold in the UK which does conform to EU organic rules on production and labelling is the Soil Association-certified 1999 Las Lomas Vias Viejas. This varietal red is made by the CAV Cauquenes, a co-op 220 miles south of Santiago, from ungrafted, non-irrigated, bush-trained Pas vines, farmed by several growers, including Hernn and Ivn Moraga. "Las Lomas" refers to the coastal slopes upon which the vines are grown. Unfortunately, the name of the variety cannot appear on the label, thanks to Chilean and EU labelling laws which forbid mention of the Pas, otherwise known as the Mission grape. The Pas is often described as a third-rate grape, good only for sacramental wine. The 2000 Vias Viejas has a bright, thick colour and a clear, powerful aroma. It is one of the most distinctive organic New World wines, and an indicator of Chile's potential to produce arresting wine from non-traditional varieties. The Moragas' Pas vines, many of which are over a hundred years old, are still ploughed up by horse rather than machine, to avoid compacting the soil. By-products like manure can be composted for fertiliser. Winemaker Claudio Barria says that: "The Pas has had at least 300 years to adapt to Chile's climate, pests and diseases, which makes it inherently more suited to organic growing than an imported clone of Dijon or Davis Chardonnay for example." Around 30,000 litres of the 1999 Via Viejas were produced. The wine retails for less than 6. Volumes for the follow-on 2000 and 2001 vintages are around 33,000 and 50,000 litres respectively. Fully certified organic Las Lomas Cabernet Sauvignon and Las Lomas Chardonnay will be available in the UK from this time next year. The CAV Cauquenes and its UK partner Grape-2-Wine have been partners since 1997, when they developed the Antu Mapu range. The 1998 Antu Mapu Sauvignon Blanc was voted the White Wine of the Year at the 1999 International Wine Challenge.