If you’ve ever traveled to Chile, you may remember how strict they are when you arrive, making sure you’re not smuggling in any produce, seeds, pets, etc. It’s all because of a man named Claude Gay who had the foresight back in 1830 to convince the Chilean government to create an agency to protect Chile’s agriculture from the dangers of imported plant diseases. I mean, phyloxxera (the dastardly vine-eating aphid) nearly wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe back in the late 1800s, after eager English botanists collected some vines from America … aaaand brought them to France. Jeez louise, that was a real shitshow.
But Monsieur Gay, the French botanist said, “non!” And ever since, Chilean vineyards have remained free of phyloxxera! Some of this can be attributed to Chile’s vine-friendly geographic bounty – the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, making for steady breezes that make it hard for pests like phyloxxera to thrive. (In fact, Chile is the only country in the world that is still phylloxera-free!) But some of it is just plain vigilance on the part of Chilean wineries and viticulturists who are hell-bent on keeping Chilean vineyards healthy and sustainable.
The cool thing is, Chile’s sustainable practices don’t stop in the vineyard. They extend into how wines are packaged, how wineries support their communities and their conservation of water, electricity and other resources. I received an assortment of Chilean wines that are great examples of the country’s sustainable practices. Let’s take a spin through them, shall we?
Viña Emiliana Coyam 2018 ($35) This bold red blend is centered around Syrah and Carmenère. It’s a big boy, that will only get better over the next 10 years. It’s busting loose with rich, dark fruits like dried prunes and dried cherries accented with herbaceous and savory notes of wild herbs, black pepper, leather and graphite. It’s got a fair amount of Brett showing (that bandaid-y or barnyard-y aroma from Brettanomyces, a form of yeast that can be accidental or intentional. Too much of it can wreck a wine, if you ask me). The tannins are in your face on this wine – and those will chill out with some air, I think. It’s totally drinkable now, with a nice piece of beef or a mushroom dish – but I think it’ll really soar with a bit of time in the cellar.
Viña Emiliana practices organic and biodynamic farming and lives by a code of eight commitments to the planet, mostly related to viticulture and wine making. They also support organic gardens in local schools and have 91 organic gardens for employees that they can harvest from to feed their families! Love that.
Koyle Gran Reserve Carmenere 2019 ($17) Koyle also practices organic and biodynamic farming and is non-GMO certified – plus vegan! This is an intense and juicy wine with deep-dark fruits on the nose, a hint of floral (dried rose petals maybe) and a luscious, bouncy texture. It’s kind of glorious and totally over-delivers for the price. I’d drink this with my favorite vegetarian burrito (this wine can handle a little spice), or a burger or a pork chop. It’s super versatile. Don’t let the nose throw you off – this wine’s assertive aroma belies quite the sexy minx of a red wine that goes down very easily!
Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva 2018 ($20) Here we have an organic red blend that’s build around Cab Franc, Syrah, Carmenere, Merlot and Cab Sauvignon. You’re going to get a nose full of wild herbs, cola or root beer, dried tobacco and Cab Franc’s signature green pepper note (not too much, but it’s there). It tastes expensive, with a lot of chewy texture and spice. I like it! Meat, meat, meat and mushrooms. Also, triple-crème cheeses. Viña Tarapacá has a robust program in place to support biodiversity and sustainable wine growing, paying close attention to their ecosystem to help native flora and fauna thrive – which benefits the entire area, including the vineyards. They’ve planted more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs to keep the local ecosystem in good balance.
Maquis Gran Reserva Cabernet Franc 2018 ($24) Well, for starters, this wine has a nose that just draws you in with a big smile. Cocoa, dark-chocolate covered cherries, ripe raspberries, and a little mocha all waft out of the glass. there are some roasted meat notes and hardly a whiff of green pepper (Cab Franc’s calling card) – which can be credited to a two-foot layer of clay over a similar layer of gravel in the vineyard- which allows the grapes to somehow lose their “greenness.” Bright and juicy on the palate, this certified sustainable red is named after an ornament of the Mapuches, a local indigenous people. Plus, the winery has an award-winning energy recovery system that’s enabled them to reduce electrical use by 30 percent and liquified gas by 90 percent. Well-done!
Concha y Toro Gran Riserva Serie Riberas Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($17) Concha y Toro is one of the largest producers in Chile, and this sustainably grown Cab from the Marchigue D.O. region within the Colchagua Valley is a full of cassis, black cherry and a hint of spice. It’s got a luxurious texture and I can see it paired with grilled or roasted sausages, pork chops or burgers. Concho y Toro is B Corp-certified, which is major. The requirements for achieving this status are many and challenging, but it means that a company has considered sustainability at every level of their operation. Reducing the carbon footprint is another huge priority for Concha y Toro and they are working with Wines of Chile to get more organizations on-board to help reduce the carbon footprint.
Viu Manent Secreto Malbec 2019 ($15) This was an especially fun wine to taste – again – because it is one that I visited back in 2017 on a trip to Chile. The Secreto line is a fun one, where they add 15 percent of a “secret blend” – secreto – to a varietal to add a twist. Viu Manent. The wine is fresh and bouncy with raspberries, strawberries and a whiff of lavender. Viu Manent thrives on solar power and they also support biodiversity, protecting native plants, trees and flowers and have a huge recycling effort.
If you’d like more information on these wines, hit up their websites and ask your local wine shop about them. You could be saving the planet one sip at a time!
Viña Koyle (pronounced Koo-lay)