In the sixteenth century, Spanish missionaries planted Vinifera vines for the first time across the Americas, most of which came from the Canary Islands where boats moored on their way to the New World, or from Central Spain. Over the centuries these cultivars have become genetically distinct across the continent: not only country specific but site specific, as vines have crossed, mutated and self-propagated, creating a genetic diversity that differs vineyard to vineyard. País (meaning Country and which is originally Listan Negro or Listan Prieto) is Chile’s endemic red grape; and the oldest and most dominant white varietal is Moscatel de Alejandría ; and in each old vineyard grow various shades of pink crosses between the two. Southern Chile’s valleys, in particular Maule, Itata and Bío Bío, with their sandy soils and good rainfall and cold winters have proved particularly apt for grape production. We find fresh and expressive reds and complex aromatic whites. As phylloxera wiped out the original cultivars in Europe, which were never planted again in Spain, these grapes are grown no-where else in the world. These are all ancient bush vines: never trellised, never irrigated, never sprayed. They were planted, left alone, and year after year have provided traditional communities with healthy and delicious Pipeño.
Pipeño is a uniquely Chilean style of winemaking that etymologically refers to wine stored in a pipa – a very large ageing vessel made of native Raulí beech wood. Culturally the terms means wine of and for the people, made rustically from traditional Spanish cultivars, both red and white. Grapes are traditionally fully destemmed, open fermented in lagar (massive foudres of raulí), foot stomped and gravity fed to pipa soon after fermentation so it can be enjoyed…quicker. Many of our producers want to take this ancient style of treating their grapes to the world and bottle this historic juice for the first time. Other producers wish to promote the nobility of autochthonous cultivars and distinguish themselves from the rusticity of the old ways where there is culturally no distinction of winemaker as artisan.
In the nineteenth century, as mining wealth grew in Santiago, the elite travelled to Europe and gained a taste for European culture and in particular, French wines. French varietals were brought over and planted on a massive scale in the central region close to the capital. As opposed to the very small-scale, zero-input agriculture and winemaking of the Old South, these modern plantings heralded the start of industrial viticulture and vinification. This continues to be winemaking based on un-sustainable agriculture (heavy irrigation and chemical sprays) and the exploitation of traditional growers of the ignoble old vines. The box wine and export industry relies on paying incredibly low prices for país grapes and blending them with French varietals to increase colour, alcohol and extraction. The industrialisation of winemaking in the hot centre definitively pushed small growers in the South out of the market, and now viticulture is dying as the price of grapes set by the monopoly of Concha y Toro, is too often below cost of production.
In the rural South of Chile, small vignerons still tend centuries’-old bush vines, practicing a non-interventionist viticulture rarely seen in our world today, but in diminishing numbers. As grape growing becomes increasingly unviable vines are being ripped out at an alarming rate to be replaced by pine and eucalypt plantations for the paper mill industry. These plantations impoverish soils and communities, providing no jobs, emptying out rural villages, and rendering soils infertile.
There are a handful of families taking a stand and bottling. They continue to vinify as their ancestors always have, and search for international distributors, as there is no market in Chile for their heritage wines. Equally, there is a growing bunch of young winemakers, Chilean and from further afield, who know there is a healthy market for minimal intervention wines of such historical significance. They buy grapes at sustainable prices, trying to make Good agriculture viable for just a little longer.
In our small way we want to support all their efforts. We hope you enjoy this delicious juice.