Viticultural Paradise Lost

‘A viticultural paradise.’

That was how some people used to refer to Chile. A country whose vineyards were refreshed by pure Andean melt-water, free from pests and diseases that afflicted other less wholesome nations, and where all vintages were bountiful and even.

These days, reality is catching up with Chilean wine. And it’s no bad thing, either.

Four challenging vintages on the trot have hit the slender South American nation. Frosts in 2014 saw yields plummet. The 2015 vintage was torrid; the torrential harvest rains of 2016 proved disastrous. And then infernal heat and rampant wild-fires plagued wine growers in 2017.

And yet, there are silver linings. On one hand, people are finally talking about vintages in Chile – an essential part of the fine wine context which hitherto has seldom been a key topic for Chile.

The challenging conditions have also forced people to re-assess their viticulture in a positive way. A generation of Chileans has grown up knowing only easy harvests; now they will have the experience to cope when things get tough.

Finally, the country’s increasing emphasis on fine wine means it is exploring the boundaries of geographical and climatic possibility. This will inevitably mean that vintage variation will come into play more. Again, a positive dynamic – even if it makes life a little harder for viticulturists and winery accountants.

As Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa, who makes more Chilean wine than anyone else, told me: ‘We must never forget: we depend on nature and it is not under our control.’ Talking about the 2018 vintage, he urged people to keep back stocks, ‘since we don’t know what the climate has in store’.

Not many of us do, these days.

[Peter Richards MW’s article Variations on a Theme appears in¬†Decanter¬†magazine October 2018 edition]

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