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Carol Emmas- What's hot in Chile

Published:  14 December, 2009

Tarred with the brush of having "safe and reliable" wines, after a recent visit to Chile it was interesting to view how producers are embracing the new diversity that cooler climates are offering. With a near perfect climate for grape growing, vast tracts of land and little disease, Chile is beginning to resemble a giant vinous playground where excited producers can toy around with land and terroir as much as they like.

Felipe Muller-East winemaker at Tabali thinks Limari is going to have the biggest cool climate development in the next decade. "Many wineries are trying to get a piece of the action here and investing heavily," he says. "For one the weather is safe, it's very dry and there is little risk of rain near harvest which is usually a problem."

"It means producers can grow red grapes that in other cold climate areas is impossible."

Muller-East also compares the Limari Valley to Marlborough as the temperature doesn't get above 25 degrees. He explains the soil is alluvial and similar to Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone and Loire, with plenty of limestone and active calcium carbonate which helps give wines a pronounced minerality.

Experimental projects and ideals differ from winery to winery regarding the best way to plant, and produce their wines. Tabale is big on GPS referencing having bought geologists in to assess the soils and map out the land.  As a purist, his philosophy is to divide the land up into something more akin to a patchwork quilt. "Nature's not a square path and we want to make sure the right grapes are planted in exactly the right areas."

Over in Aconcagua on the other hand, it's all about blending from different terroirs. Family owned winery, Viña St Esteban produces the InSitu brand and is also experimenting with altitude. General manager and winemaker Horacio Vicente Mena, says there is a real difference between red grapes from the valley and the hillsides and these differences complement each other. "The best results are a blend from the hill, which gives softer tannins and the river bed which produces more minty flavours."

Opinions also differ regarding whether to use original rootstocks or grafted. It's a choice that other countries that have suffered the fate of phylloxera don't have. But Chile being phylloxera free does. De Martino are adamant they want to take the risk against disease and stick with the original rootstocks for the sake of authenticity."

Yet Luis Felipe Edwards won't take the risk. "We've spent four times as much as we would have converting our rootstock. This is our livlihood, we don't want to take the risk, if the vines contracted Phylloxera, it would ruin us."

Having different opinions of whether to be organic, bio-dynamic or sustainable, or whether to plant in valleys, hills or on the coast is all part of this young winemaking country's current rich tapestry. This means we are beginning to and will increasingly see a very rich diversity of wine styles and innovation coming this way soon

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