Did you know that vines could grow this close to zero latitude? Welcome to Ecuador, a land where the two hemispheres of our planet meet, and where Dos Hemisferios winery realized the unthinkable: to produce quality wines.
It was from Guayaquil airport, in the south of the country, that we took the direction of the seaside town of Playas, 2 hours away. We were welcomed in the morning by Abel Furlán, the winemaker of Dos Hemisferios, under a blazing sun.
Of Argentine origin, Abel is a colorful character, full of joy and energy. He spends an average of five months a year on the estate, mainly between the periods of veraison and fermentation. The rest of the year, he divides his time between his family vineyard – which he manages with his sons in the Mendoza region – and his functions as President of the Association of Winemakers of Argentina. "Welcome to Ecuador! I take you to visit the Dos Hemisferios vineyard in San Miguel del Morro", he exclaimed.
Before leaving for the vineyard, Abel surprised us with a very refreshing first stop : we tasted fresh coconut juice by the side of the road! A real pleasure to drink this savory and quenching juice by straw.
"The path to the vineyard is winding and a little chaotic, better fasten your belts!", Abel recommended. 10 km of track on a narrow road, cutting through plantations of palm trees and bananas. What a way to increase our curiosity.
At the end of the road, a cul-de-sac. On our left, a cacao plantation. In front of us, the grids of the property. A guard came to open for us. We were face to face with a magnificent vineyard, with rolling hills and colors of spring.
A story that began in 2004 with 2 hectares of vines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Torrontes. "The wine of Ecuador is basically a paradox, which has finally turned into a veritable winemaking project", Guillermo Wright, the pre-president and founder of Dos Hemisferios, who started with the production of table grapes well before making wine, said with a twinkle in the eye.
Guillermo Wright – whose family owns the country's first supermarket chain – and Alejandro Taramelli, the two founding partners of the estate, are primarily farmers. Owners of 370 hectares of culture, they have one day decided to diversify their activities by planting table grapes.
The two men, who have always had appreciation for wine and who are part of a wine tasting club, started from the premise that if they could grow good table grapes on the equator, they could probably grow good wine grapes on the same terroir ; the famous Vitis vinifera(1).
"The tests we made on the two hectares planted in 2004 were very conclusive, so we decided to embark on the adventure and create Dos Hemisferios", Guillermo explained. Thus, the project quickly grew to 40 hectares of vines, with the addition of new grape varieties : Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon
Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
And an expansion of around 100 hectares is planned within the next 10 years, with a production of around one million bottles expected.
The closer a plant grows to the equator, the faster its growth cycle is. The same happens for the vine, which produces two grape harvests annually here. Forget the seasons : there are none. With an average annual temperature of 24°C and sunny days, the vine grows all year round. What allows to rhythm its vegetative cycle is the pruning.
From the moment a plot is pruned, the date of the next harvest is determined precisely, according to the type of vine planted. Thus, at Dos Hemisferios, there is a rare phenomenon, similar to that of Bali. Facing us were plots of vines planted with different grape varieties, next to each other, but growing at completely different stages. Some have just been harvested, while others are beginning flowering.
Convenient to control production and ensure quality grapes all year round! "With sunny days, mild nights, very interesting calcareous soils composed of fossil rocks and a constant sea breeze, the conditions are excellent for producing quality grapes", Abel Furlán confirmed.
And we have to face the facts: from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Noir, Dos Hemisferios successfully vinified international grapes, succeeding in producing quality wines. The estate has invested in a state-of-the-art building.
The entire cellar is built on the principle of a giant cold room, with three generators, able to generate cold continuously. A huge investment, which allows the technical team to carry out specific winemaking and ageing of the wines, as elsewhere in the world.
The only thing is that they must chaptalize(2) – a lack of sugar in the grapes requires this – and correct the acidity, rather low on this latitude.
Anyway, Dos Hemisferios is a beautiful discovery and a pleasant surprise. A vineyard that pushes the boundaries of modern viticulture a little further. We have had a lot of fun exploring it. And when the Isidore Eagle majestically hovered over the vineyard of the estate to say goodbye, our visit to Ecuador became even more magical!
Thank you to the whole team of Dos Hemisferios for their warm welcome. And a special thank you to Abel Furlan, winemaker of Dos Hemisferios and President of the Association of Argentine Winemakers, for his hospitality, availability and valuable advice.
(1) Vitis vinifera, or cultivated vine, is a species of shrubby shrubs of the Vitaceae family.
(2) Chaptalization consists in adding sugar to the must to increase the degree of final alcohol of the wine after the alcoholic fermentation. In theory, the addition of 16.83 grams of sugar per liter leads to the production of an additional degree of alcohol.