SANTIAGO – Chile, one of the world’s top wine producers, is helping to modernize the ancient art of vinification with eco-friendly, biodynamic and even vegan alternatives aimed at satisfying the most discerning palates.
Ranked fourth worldwide in terms of export volume and value, according to the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine, Chilean winemakers have now forged a place as regional leaders in the production of organic varieties of that alcoholic beverage.
That product line saw growth of 20 percent worldwide in 2019, according a study by Chile’s Bio-Bio University, yet the increased output is still insufficient to satisfy the demand of major markets like Europe, the United States and Japan.
Sustainability has been on the Chilean wine industry’s agenda since the creation of a “Wines of Chile Association – Sustainable” label more than a decade ago. More than 80 percent of that country’s exported bottled wines – produced at 76 vineyards and encompassing an area of 50,000 hectares (193 square miles) – now carry that label.
“There’s been a greater awareness for several years about environmental concerns, and it’s under that umbrella that these new wines have appeared,” that association’s head of sustainability, Patricio Parra, told EFE.
Chile’s narrow north-to-south terrain and average width of just 150 kilometers (93 miles) also plays a key role, with Pacific Ocean breezes from the west and invigorating Andes mountain breezes from the east providing a unique and beneficial climate for its wines.
“This creates a climatic diversity that has made possible the appearance of new wines and the gradual increase in organic vineyards,” Parra said.
One such plantation is Viña Emiliana.
Located in a picturesque setting where hens and alpacas roam amid eco-friendly gardens and grape fields, it is Chile’s first organic vineyard and one of the world’s largest with an area of 900 hectares and wine output exceeding 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) annually.
“Eco-friendly or organic wine is one in which no type of synthetic chemical is used, such as pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers that normally make their way to the grape and remain as a residue on the final product,” said Viña Emiliana’s chief executive officer, Cristian Rodriguez.
Another variety is biodynamic wine, which Rodriguez said is produced under the premise of a closed-loop agricultural approach, a concept that entails returning to the way farms operated 150 years ago and viewing the land as a living entity.
This type of wine is made from the residue of wine production (the grape’s skins, seeds and stalks), with animal dung employed as fertilizer and minerals and plants such as chamomile and dandelion used to ward off pests.
Around 97 percent of the production from that vineyard is exported to Europe, Brazil and the US. Thousands of tourists also visit the plantation annually to sample its wines, which are certified as both vegan and biodynamic and are produced under fair-trade standards, Rodriguez said.
Besides organic wines, which make up around 2.5 percent of the country’s total production, according to the Wines of Chile Association, vegan wines also have grown in popularity in recent years.
Unlike most wines that use casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites) or other animal-based fining agents, vegan wines replace those ingredients with plant-based products.
“There’s been a boom in veganism over the past five years in Chile, and the trend in wines has always been toward what’s healthiest,” said Juan Jose Tarud, a local producer at a century-old vineyard just south of Santiago who makes wines that are entirely devoid of animal-based products.
Tarud employs no industrial processes and the grape juice is left to rest for months in vats and clay amphoras that, according to this expert, “help maintain the aroma and make it unnecessary to add yeast or sulfites” in the fermentation process.
Alvaro Peña, a winemaker and agronomy professor at the University of Chile, told EFE there is no difference in taste between vegan and traditional wines and that they have “identical organoleptic properties,” referring to their taste, sight and smell.
The production of these new wines responds to the demands of Millennials, a generation that is interested in reducing its animal consumption, Peña said, adding that this is “a trend that’s here to stay.”