In Chile, organic wines come naturally

Apalta at harvest

Organic farming isn’t easy or cheap.  It’s difficult in humid regions because of the risk of mildew and rot and it’s easier in regions with dry growing seasons like Alsace and the south of France.  In Chile, farming comes about as pure as the snow melt from the Andes which is used for irrigation and the natural rootstock of its vitis vines.  And with the influence of the cold Humbolt Current moving northerly along the coast, rainfall is relatively low.

Some of the largest individual organic vineyards in the world are located in the Colchagua Valley, a sub-region of the Rapel Valley with about 60,000 acres of vineyards, such as Emiliana Vineyards with over 1,300 acres, Lapostolle with over 700 acres and Cono Sur with about 300 acres.

Colchagua, like most of Chile’s Central Valley, is red wine country.  The days are warm, dry and very sunny, enhancing physiological ripeness.  The Central Valley created by the towering Andes to the east and a lower coastal range to the west, creates large diurnal swings in temperature which allow the grapes to preserve their acidity for balance and longevity.  Further cooling influences come from the Pacific over a lower part of the coastal range.  With only 24 inches of rainfall falling mostly during the winter, the majority of vineyards are irrigated.

Cab and merlot are the leading grapes here, but among Chile’s plantings of its signature grape carmenere, Colchagua is the leading region with 34% of total acres.  Being fascinated by carmenere, I grab every opportunity I get to taste the different expressions of Chile’s signature red wine.  Recently, I tasted the 2009 Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Carmenere from the famed Apalta Vineyard.  Apalta is a unique ampitheater carved into the coastal range which limits the most intense rays of the sun, facilitating slow flavor development and acid retention.  Lapostolle’s carmenere is planted on poor, well-draining sandy soils, and their vineyards are farmed organically.  The yields are very low, at 1.8 tons/acre.

The result is a very serious, structured carmenere with intense black plum and berry fruit, cocoa, spice and notes of black pepper.   Lapostolle uses labor-intensive practices such as leaf-pulling and green thinning, hand-harvesting and even hand-destemming 10% of the bunches, making the SRP of $24 a real value.

If you’re one of those consumers who still think organic wines are kind of funky, you don’t have to worry with Chilean wines.  The industry generally is technologically modern, with nearly half of producers using temperature-controlled stainless steel, leading to clean, fruit-driven wines.