11,000 kilometers, hundreds of vineyards, persons and landscapes to be conquered by the spirit of the Chilean land.
The urge to explore, the call of adventure and the eagerness to allow themselves to be captivated by each territory, have led the Spanish wine company Vintae on a journey through the Andean country in search of forgotten centenary vineyards, rescuing the oldest varieties and the traditional production methods. During this journey they have walked the land and felt the Chilean soul through the stories of scores of winegrowers who keep a wine tradition alive that Küdaw wines is about to assume. Discover Vintae’s journey to the spirit of the Chilean land with Ricardo Arambarri, the chief explorer.
February 22, 2015, somewhere over the Atlantic
Although today is when this travel log begins, to tell how this adventure was actually initiated, we have to go back to October 2013. Calle Laurel in Logroño. Our friend and Chilean partner John Obilinovic, was telling me that his family wanted to begin making wines in Chile. After speaking at length, he delivered the final surprise: “Wouldn’t you like to join us in doing this?” At that time the spark of the adventure was kindled in my head and it has brought us here. We are 10,000 meters above the Atlantic Ocean en route to Santiago, Chile. To my left is Raul Acha, technical director of Vintae, the kind of winemaker that more than anything else likes to walk in the vineyard. To my right, studying a map of Chile, is Pedro Balda, Doctor in Viticulture and winemaker and great connoisseur of Chilean vineyards. John, the Chilean “loco” that started us on this adventure, is waiting for us at the airport. This is our third trip to the Andean country and we are going to choose the vineyards from which we will produce our first Chilean wines. Ahead of us are days of walking through vineyards and tasting grapes, of exploring the most authentic Chile in search of vineyards and people with which to turn this dream into a reality.
February 24, 2015. Colbún Lake.
Our first two days in Chile have been exciting. As soon as we landed, John greeted us in Santiago and we went to Santa Cruz. There Ignacio Cáceres was waiting for us, a Chilean winemaker who is going to be our trusted person on the ground. In our first encounter with Chilean cuisine, Ignacio gives us our first leads about the varieties that we are interested in: the old ones such as País, Carignan or Cinsault and some fresher ones in vineyards close to the coast such as Sauvignon Blanc or Carmenere.
Today we traveled to Colbún. Here we felt that we were in the presence of the living history of Chilean viticulture. Professor Philippo Pszczolkowski, a prominent figure at the University of Chile who has located and recovered minority varieties, greeted us in his home. Professor Pszczolkowski brought Juan-Michel Boursiquot to Chile, the ampelographer who discovered that a large number of the Chilean vineyards that were believed to be Merlot were actually Carmenere, the lost French variety. Some of the oldest vineyards are in this Colchagua Valley.
Moreover, he told us that the Garnacha vineyards, which were in our plans, are mostly young plantations. And he has also reaffirmed our route: “the oldest vineyards of the old varieties are in the south”.
ebruary 26. Sauzal.
We knew that we were going to find really old vineyards here, but what we have discovered completely won us over. Sauzal is a small village within the vast interior dry land, although almost in the foothills of the Cordillera de la Costa. Renan Cancino, a winegrower from Sauzal and Pedro’s good friend, guided us through hidden farms to find one of the greatest treasures in Chile: the ancient vineyards of the País variety that are treasured in this area. We have asked all the wine growers about the age of their vines, but none has been able to give an exact date. “My grandfather used to say that when he was a young boy, these vineyards were already old”. Many of them must be more than 150 years old and they are still being cultivated, on horseback and without chemical products.
After two days of searching, we now have the vineyard to produce Küdaw Nativo País. Seeing all this we begin to feel that Küdaw, the name in the Mapuche tongue for “the work of the land”, fits perfectly with the wines that come from here.
This is the Chile we were searching for and now we want more! We leave for Cauquenes.
February 27. Cauquenes.
On one of our first trips, south of Cauquenes in the middle of Maule dry land, we were introduced to another enthusiast of the Chilean wine tradition: Sergio Amigo, the driving force of a wonderful project, Viña Cancha Alegre, located in the town of the same name.
Sergio produces handcrafted wines. With him we explore Carignan’s centenary organic plantations. Many of these vineyards were threatened by forestry companies and the people of the area saved them. Here the producers have joined together and are beginning to highlight the value of their great treasure. After finding the vineyard that we were searching for and preparing the harvest that will begin shortly and that Raúl will oversee, we say goodbye to Sergio and once again head south toward the Itata Valley.
March 1. Guarilihue.
Upon arriving in the Itata Valley we found the greatest landscape contrast up to this point. The orography, the vegetation, the landscape, everything reminded us of Galicia. In the southern hemisphere, as you move closer to the extreme southern tip, the climate is cooler and moister.
The best Chilean Cinsault that we have tasted brought us to this beautiful valley. Here Claudio Verdugo, the gentleman who has accompanied us in our search of vineyards, greets us. This area practices authentic heroic viticulture, because most of the vineyards are located on hillsides with very steep slopes that make any work in them difficult. Of course, here, too, the horse is the best work implement. At the top of a hill with spectacular views, we find the vineyard that meets Raúl and Pedro’s expectations for Cinsault.
After these 8 days, and with many people engaged in our project, the only task remaining is to choose the winery in which we will produce the first bottles of Vintae Chile from these selected vineyards. Excited and still with our boots full of mud, we head back toward the north, to visit once again Bodegas Odjfell, very near Santiago.
Santiago de Chile, March 2, 2015.
The visit to Bodegas Odjfell in Padre Hurtado finishes convincing us. Small tanks, also made of cement, ‘fudres’ and a professional team captained by Arnau Hereu and directed by Raul Acha, make us envision the tasting of the first wines of the 2015 Vintae vintage in a few months. Summer will not have yet come to Spain, but in Chile we will have picked all the grapes and turned them into wine. Each of these landscapes, their wines and the people that we have met have managed to win us over. We expected no less! Let Vintae Chile begin!