As wine connoisseurship evolves, I look toward developing ways to express the aspects of wine I love the most. I recognize that wine is a product of nature and science; my goal is as natural as can be: to help make the connection between joy of taste and the bountiful pleasures of life.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

cold pockets in a warm climate or warm pockets in a cold climate?

What makes Chile the world’s most suitable natural environment for growing wine grapes, how it benefited from its natural barriers and a benevolent Mediterranean climate, and why such a large proportion of Chilean wine reaching us today is crafted utilizing bio-dynamic or low input practices without the producer having to lift a finger.

In most parts of the world, the organic production of wine can be quite labour intensive and there’s a lot of thought that goes into making a vineyard bio-dynamic or organic, and the final product organic for that matter. For some areas, it’s simply not viable to omit the use of industrial pesticides, such is the nature of the environment. So what makes Chile so different?


Chile’s climate is highly influenced by the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean and the Humboldt Current that begins in the icy waters near Antarctica and flows up the western coast of South America. When the effect of the Humboldt’s cold current hits Chile’s northern coastline it produces clouds and fog, but little or no precipitation, which then contributes to making the Atacama Desert the driest on Earth. Important to note is that there is as much climactic diversity west to east as there is from North to South.

The cool sea air is partially blocked by the Coastal Mountains, although it finds its way inland by following the course of the transversal river valleys. During the day, sea breezes carried by the cold Humboldt Current penetrate inland, and each night, cold air descends from the snow covered peaks of the Andes. The coastal mountains of Chile look like the large Sonoma Coast appellation. While traveling through this coastal area, it’s hard to believe that there aren’t more vineyards in such an apparently ideal locale.

Chile’s geographic barriers - the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes Mountains to the east, the Patagonian ice fields to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west - make it a veritable agricultural island. Together they help maintain healthy conditions and protect vineyards against pests and disease. Not much if any mildew, no glassy winged sharpshooters, no Phylloxera, cool and dry in general… it’s a winemaker’s paradise.

Soil & Terroir With so much geographic variety, the Chilean landscape also offers a vast mosaic of terroirs and soil types. Soils are healthy, well-drained, and have a variety of origins (alluvial, colluvial, fluvial, etc.) and textures (loam, clay, sand, silt). Despite the relatively dry atmospheric conditions, abundant water for irrigation flows from the ice caps of the Andes Mountains that tower all along Chile’s eastern border.

Altitude -In recent years, more and more vineyards creep closer and higher to the peaks, where the sun is slow to appear over the eastern peaks and makes up for its late arrival with the intensity that comes with altitude. Currents of wind climb and descend over the course of the day to create a daily pendulum of temperatures that swings broadly between daytime highs and night time lows. This is just what rich red grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, thrive on.

Not long, but wide -Curiously, it’s not the distance from the equator that plays the dominant role in the diversity of Chile’s grape growing exploits, but rather the proximity to the Pacific Ocean or the Andes Mountains. Again,..Chile has much greater diversity in soils and climates from east to west than from north to south.

All of this may seem a bit over rated or simply irrelevant to what most of us know and feel about Chilean wines. We’ve come to understand that the country has for years produced a majority of their wines for export and have despite the totally unique and endless viticultural wonderland clearly focused on quantity and not so much quality. Sadly for the looking back but fortunately, as I have recently discovered that the historical presentation and position Chilean wine has taken will likely be the launching pad/ spring board for what I believe is the next greatest and promising global wine producing region. As recently as 7 years ago, a visible paradigm shift in the mentality of the entire industry has spawned an amazing spirit of rejuvenation. We are today witness to export directors, young second and third generation winemakers taking the helm, driving market share, setting new standards of excellence and producing wonderfully crafted, interesting wines that are a pleasure to enjoy, to collect and to ponder. Get in on the map people! Viva Chile! Raise your cup with me and toast to what I promise one day soon will be regarded as the most exciting and rapidly evolving wine production areas in history.

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