Being the 7th largest producer in volume and the 9th in vineyard in size with 214,000 hectares(1), Chile is a country that weighs on the world wine scene. A fascinating wine terroir, dating back to the 16th century, which developed rapidly thanks to the particularly favorable climatic conditions and the geography of the country, mountainous and bordering the Pacific Ocean. Let’s explore a long vineyard, which extends over 1,200 km between the 29th and 38th paralles south.
It is difficult to dream of a better introduction to Chile than via the discovery of the Casablanca Valley, nestled between the Andes and the Cordillera of the Coast. A breathtaking wine region, on the 33rd parallel south, with hilly reliefs and good granite soils, exceptional for the production of world class wines.
It is in the company of JeanCharles Villard (aka Charlie), a winegrower as talented as he is adorable, that we discovered the valley, where his family property, Villard Fine Wines, is located. It is on horseback that we had the pleasure of visiting the estate, early in the morning.
A slight mist was rising over the vineyard, "bringing freshness throughout the year", Charlie explained. On the horizon, the summits of the mountains of the Cordillera of the Coast just appeared. The moment was magical.
"We are not a wine business, we are a family winery", Charlie likes to say. He is working with his brother Sébastien (head of the Nadalié cooperage for Chile) and his parents, who are the founders of the estate.
Villard Fine Wines was a pioneer in the 90's for the production of premium Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in Casablanca. At the time, a 9L case of wine was sold for $18 on average in Chile ; while they were selling one for $58 minimum for their white wines.
"Impossible for us to sell the wines at the beginning. We were too expensive for the market. We drank a good part with friends!“ they remember, laughing. A crazy bet for the time, today crowned with success : precise, fresh and delicious wines that seduced us ; just like the other wines of the property, mainly made from the Syrah grape variety, on the initiative of Charlie.
With 500 estates of important size, Chile is the country with the largest ratio of number of hectares planted per winery.
For a long time, only these wineries were present on the Chilean wine market, offering mostly mass-produced wines. But over the past thirty years, more and more small producers – with a planted area ranging from 2 to 80 hectares – have emerged and are changing the image of Chilean wine.
Not only by creating premium wines, but also by showing the way to the whole country – the majority of wineries now having at least one iconic limited edition wine – making Chile a country extremely attractive in terms of diversity and quality.
Thus, several independent movements were created in Chile, like Casablanca Off, on the initiative of Charlie Villard and including seven other wineries.
These independent initiatives, which often function as associations, are doing advertising and marketing on their own, because of low budgets. Based on self-help – for promotion, distribution and for the purchase of equipment, for example – these movements offer new perspectives for winegrowers who probably would not have been able to start their small wineries alone.
Another project that we have discovered is the MOVI Movement of Independent Vintners), bringing together producers from all over the country.
A complementary and participative counterpoint, according to them, with winemakers sharing the same philosophy, to "produce wines of quality and character on a human scale", Charlie explained to us, as he is also a member of this movement. We had the opportunity to taste the production of 21 MOVI producers.
The wines were all interesting, a perfect testament to the great diversity of the Chilean wine scene.
Do you know Pisco? It is the oldest appellation of origin in the Americas for a spirit and the third oldest in the world, after those of Cognac and Armagnac.
For once in the project, we wanted to let you explore a unique spirit. Why? Firstly because pisco is exclusively made from wine. And above all, because we are absolute fans!
We headed to the Limarí Valley, on the 30th parallel south, where we had an appointment with what is most probably one of the finest spirits on the planet : Pisco Waqar. An artisan and family distillery, which makes its pisco from Muscat rose à petits grains and Muscat d'Alexandrie grape varieties, in the village of Tulahuén, at the foot of the Andes.
A small paradise on earth, where we were greeted by two guys as friendly as they are funny: Jaime Camposano, fifth generation master distiller on the estate, and Norman Dabner, who deals with the promotion of Waqar.
Together with their friend Juan Carlos (in charge of marketing and export), they embarked on the adventure in 2010. The idea, which came from Jaime, was to create a very high-end and small scale artisanal pisco. An innovative project for the country.
The secret of their pisco? A classic fermentation of the grapes after harvest, to obtain a dry white wine, grading between 12.5 and 13% of alcohol. Then a slow distillation of 14 hours, during which 1200 liters of wine will make it possible to obtain just 100 liters of distillate.
And that's where all of Jaime's know-how is important. Of the 100 liters, he will keep only the heart of the heart, as they like to say : only 40% of it, to focus on the best only. Something never done before. A considerable loss, one could say. But a unique product, will be their answer to you.
A goldsmith's spirit, so delicate that we enjoyed it pure. On the rocks ! A delicate mouth with notes of white flowers, stone fruits, pears and strawberries. A delight.
Welcome to the Itata Valley, on the 37th parallel south, one hour from Chillán! We fell in love with this wine region, whose development has been booming in recent years.
It was on the banks of the Larqui River that we decided to explore the winery project of a lovely family, the Pandolfi-Price. In 2002, the couple Pandolfi-Price bought the farm of their dreams. A beautiful property lost in nature.
They discovered 25 hectares of Chardonnay and 3 hectares of País, planted in 1992 on volcanic and clay soils. A little jewel, in perfect sanitary condition, on a land preserved from phylloxera.
"Except that at the time, we knew nothing about wine“, Enzo admitted humbly. With their son Enzo junior, they decided to take up the challenge: starting from scratch and becoming winemakers.
"Although my family does not have a wine history, my father has always been passionate about farming, and my mother's parents were farmers ; which was already a very good base!", Enzo Junior added, smiling. He left his job as an engineer in chemistry became winegrower, alongside his father.
From the beginning, they converted the entire estate into an organic operation, planting 25 additional hectares of Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (with clones from Pomard, Vosne Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin!).
In 2007, they made the first winemaking tests in the garage of the farm. Both of them learned the job very fast and enjoyed it from the beginning. In 2008, the official release of their first vintage was announced, with the support of their oenologist, François Massoc, who still accompanies them today in the adventure.
As a result, very precise wines, full of harmony and freshness, which have not finished making noise. Notice to the amateurs.
Thank you to Villard Fine Wines, Pisco Waqar and Pendolfi Price for their warm welcome. Thank you to the ProChile teams, in Paris and Santiago, for supporting us in our domain research and for allowing us these beautiful meetings. Thank you also to all the MOVI members (Mujer Andina, Viña Meli, Maurizio Garibaldi, Viña Armidita, Vultur Wines, BO Wines, Flaherty Wines, Gillmore Winery, Viña Peumayen, Lagar De Bezana, Alchemy, Viña Polkura, Tringario, Viña Laura Hartwig, Meli, Instinto Del Maule, Rukumilla, Trabun, Nerkihue, 3 Monos) for sending their wine to Villard Fine Wines and allowing us to taste their production. Finally, thanks to Denis Rocher for having kindly hosted us during our express stay in Santiago.
(1) OIV 207 ; an increase of 8,000 ha compared to the previous year. In ten years, the Chilean vineyard has increased by more than 40%.