He's from New Zealand, is a professional DJ on the side and has made wine in South America for 15 years. Grant Phelps may be Chile's most unusual winemaker.
Prior to settling in Chile, Phelps worked as a flying winemaker in Australia, Argentina, California, Hungary, New Zealand and Oregon. He is currently head winemaker at Casas del Bosque in the cool climate Casablanca Valley region, which hugs Chile's Pacific coast.
We talk to Phelps about being a winemaker/DJ, his wine journey and the potential of Chilean wine.
Christopher Barnes: Is Chile making good Pinot Noir right now?
Grant Phelps: I think it is. It's changed compared to ... I think 20 years ago when I tasted my first Chilean Pinot. My first experience with Chilean wine was in 1996 in London, at the annual tasting that the industry puts on there, and the first things I tasted were all the Pinots in the room. The Pinots back then were all over extracted, lousy oak, you could tell they were over cropped and coming from areas that were way too hot. That was the reality back in the mid '90s. What got planted was in the central valley between the coastal mountain range and the Andes.
You had a lot of Pinot that was brought into Chile to spike the wine production to the high yielding variety, high yielding selections. Many planted the pergola or the head system, over-cropped, you're talking 10, 12 tons per acre, probably flood irrigated and obviously the area is way too hot for Pinot anyway. Winemakers back then hadn't come into contact with the real Pinot Noir. Back in the mid '90s Chilean winemakers really hadn't traveled and made wine in other regions before coming back to Chile to work, to set up camp. What you saw was these Pinots that were just overworked in the winery, over extracted, very stringent.
Also the oak selection generally was very sketchy chips and staves and not great wood. Bearing in mind that these were Pinots made at that time for the English supermarket trade, so we're talking very low-end in terms of cost, probably six to eight dollars retail on the shelves. Not expensive wines. Then of course what happened in Chile and new cool climate regions like Casablanca where we are right now. This was the first cool climate region. It was just starting to happen in the mid '90s and of course with any new region there is a learning curve. You have to remember at this point that Chile has been making wine for about 500 years.
In the mid '90s, Chileans were clear on how to work with hot climate varieties in the hot areas of Chile, but the cool climate thing was completely new, and I think they were a bit lost. It took them a few years but I think probably, in my mind around 2005 onwards, Chile started making serious world class Pinot Noir. Casablanca, Leyda, also now coastal valleys and coastal parts of valleys such Elqui and Limari further up north, and even now in Atacama there's some interesting Pinots coming out of there. And we're talking way extreme north desert, so there is this serious Pinot being made in Chile. Also what's happened down south in the past probably three to five years since that natural wine making thing started to happen. Got a lot of French guys down there making some interesting Pinot Noirs. I wouldn't say they're classics, sort of textbook Pinot. It's not necessarily what I love, but it's definitely a counterpoint to the more polished, fresher, cooler climate versions being made right now.
You said "world class," how would you define them in terms of their characteristics relative to maybe some of the areas people think about when they think about Pinot Noir?
I wouldn't go Burgundy. I think its a big mistake to compare a New World region to Burgundy. I think Oregon has learnt from that, so did Central Otago, New Zealand, 10 or 15 years ago when these regions were getting started, or 20 in the case of Oregon at least. It was a lot of people drawing parallels with Burgundy. I don't hear that so much anymore. I think everyone is clear on the fact that they're not trying to make Burgundy, and I'd say the same thing about Chile. Chile 15 years ago, probably, was talking a lot about Burgundy.
So what are the characteristics of Chilean Pinot Noir?
I think if I were to compare Chile to somewhere else it definitely wouldn't be Burgundy. Depending on where you are and the style of the winemaker, I think some of our wines are a little bit more comparable maybe to Central Otago, because there are good savory notes in our Pinot Noir, especially in this part of Casablanca. Here we're on the very coastal edge of Casablanca and the soils in our vineyard ... We're talking hillsides planted on 120 million year old granite with red volcanic clay on top. I get a little savory with my saline character coming through on the Pinot Noirs, which reminds me a lot of Central Otago. In general, if you look at cool climate Chile and you compare it to somewhere else, I think we're probably more Californian in style. I would say more of Russian River, Sonoma and on the coast.
Not so much Oregon. Oregon tends to be, especially in the heart, it's just very big and very rich Pinot Noirs. I don't think we're quite at that extreme level of voluptuousness. I think we're a little bit more fresh, a little bit more elegant, and does depend a little bit on the vintage in the area, but places such as Casablanca and Leyda which are quite cool ... We are a bit cooler even than the Russian River, so I think we tend to edge more towards a little bit more elegance.
I'm searching for my Humphrey Bogart quote but tell us about Casablanca.
Casablanca is not in Morocco-
Not this Casablanca. Casablanca was the first cool climate region developed in Chile. The very first experimental plantations happened about 1983, and commercial production of grapes didn't start until about '89. So you're talking the first wines really hitting the shelves about 1990, '91. The wine didn't start to get exported until probably about '93 to '95, something like that. In terms of existing, at least internationally, Casablanca is only about 20 years old. It is interesting that Chile's been making wine for 500 years, but it's only been 20 years that we've been working in cooler more coastal regions. The rest of the world has this strong relationship between north and south in the amount of heat, that's not the case on Chile.
Chile is the longest, skinniest country in the world, and wine is grown now in an incredibly large part of that north to south stretch. But you can be south and up against the Andes, and it can be relatively hot. It might be quite a short growing season, but during the growing season you get to very high temperatures. This is up against the Andes: you can get well above 90 degrees everyday. But you can be way further north and close to the coast and it's super cold, like Casablanca. We're due west of Santiago which is pretty much in the dead middle - dead center of the country. Santiago is very hot, but coming up the coast we have this very good cold current of water called the Humboldt current.
It originates in Antarctica, runs all the way back, goes to Chile, Peru, hits Ecuador and swims out towards the Galapagos where it finishes up. Where we are here, it's very, very cold. It runs between 14 and 16 degrees Celsius - winter to summer, so you're probably talking ... I'm not very good with my Fahrenheit conversion, probably, talking 45 to 50. Something like that. As a temperature shift, it's cold. To put it in terms you can understand: you can cut glass with your nipples I think in about two minutes of getting in the water.
It's pretty damn cold. So the effect that it has is essentially where we are in Casablanca, between Casablanca and Maipo (which is on the other side of the coastal mountain range), there is a strong series of mountains. So those mountains, when the air heats up in the morning and replaces that hot mass which is rising can't get to the Santiago, Maipo way because it's blocked by the mountains. It has to come from the ocean, and that air that comes in is very, very cold, and it draws in this fog as well. We typically get fog rolling in the late afternoon, and that blankets the valley until mid morning the next day, then the sun obviously burns it off. We get hot sunny weather and then the fog rolls in again, and that's about the classic pattern.
With the fog, we always get a very cold wind coming in and off the ocean that generally precedes the fog. It has a very strong cooling effect, and that's why this valley it's so cold. We rack up on this side of the valley where we are close to the ocean, about 750 growing degree day Celsius in your average season. On the other side of the valley over towards Santiago and ... 10 miles in a straight line there are about 950 growing degree days, so it's about 20% hotter just in that ten mile east-to-west shift from where we are now west-to-east shift, so it's a big difference. 950 growing degree days Celsius ... I'm not very good with my Fahrenheit thing once again, but 950 is about the same as Sonoma, 750 is about the same as Champagne.
Here it's very, very cold, but we get stuff ripe here that wouldn't ripen in Champagne simply because it's sunny, generally, whereas in Champagne during the growing season you have a lot of cloudy days.
Okay, so Grant, coming from New Zealand, the grape everyone associates with New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc. You make Sauvignon Blanc here. How has the experience of making Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand interacted with the terroir of Chile?
Well, I would say it kind of hasn't, to be honest.
Growing up a New Zealander ... obviously, Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine I discovered and it was the thing that made me ... It was the epiphany moment for me, and it's what got me into wine, and so for that I'm eternally grateful but ... By the same token as most New Zealand winemakers, if they're being frank with you, they will tell you that the one thing that no one wants to make anymore as a New Zealander winemaker is Sauvignon Blanc. Generally the wines are obviously very characteristic, people can recognize them. In a blind tasting, it's obvious what's from New Zealand, but by the same token that makes the wines a little bit the same. And that really in your face, the cats pee, gooseberry bush, that thing is quite inherently food incompatible to me and that's something I kind of rebel against as a winemaker.
Obviously when I was working in New Zealand I had to make a lot of Sauvignon Blanc. A necessary evil if you like. I do every now and then drink a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I don't completely hate the stuff or anything like that. I like to drink wine with food generally, and I think the Marlborough style wines are very in your face aromatically, and then in the mouth they tend not to really be there much. The wines are fresh, but they're very simple and they're quite diluted as well for the most part. It's just that sensation, the acidity, so the grape aperitif wines but with food I don't really like to drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and there is maybe three exceptions to that. There are maybe three wines I think are made in a more complex style in New Zealand with a bit of oak, a bit of malolactic fermentation, maybe trying to be more of a gastronomic style.
It can be done, it's just not what people are trying to make in New Zealand, and you know, obviously, that's because the consumers who buy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc want that in your face, asparagus, gooseberry, cat-pee thing. What I really liked about making Sauvignon Blanc when I came to Chile ... I made Sauvignon Blanc in a bunch of other places first. I worked within the States, and Australia, and France and Hungary even, but I came to Chile and what I really liked about the Sauvignon that I found here was that it's very, very citrus driven. It's not green and herbaceous and vegetal. It's much more citrus, and if you want to make a Sauvignon Blanc here with nice texture, mouthfeel, you can. It works well with that style.
The other thing is, in Chile, the Sauvignon is grown in the cool areas of Chile, like Leyda and Casablanca, and have just great natural acidity, great natural balance. In New Zealand, generally, the wines are picked with low sugars and very high acidities and you need to, as a winemaker, de-acidify and chaptalize and everything else to make the wine just a bit more balanced. In Chile that's not the case. I literally don't have to manipulate these wines at all in terms of alcohol or acidity. What you get is what you see, if you like. What we do which is very, very different here, and once again, going back to that thing about trying to make a wine with Sauvignon that is more food compatible. We're picking 100% at night. We're the last people in the valley, we're probably the last people in Chile, to pick their Sauvignon Blanc.
We start picking - in an average a year - after the 20th of March, so it's a good month after they start picking Sauvignon Blanc on the other side of the valley. That's only ten miles away, but there's a huge difference. We are picking a full month after they are, and we're picking 100% at night. The reason being: the temperatures are much lower at night here - obviously, as temperatures are generally lower at night everywhere - but here we get a huge dive in temperature shift. At the end of March we'll be getting up into the mid 20s during the day - so probably mid 80s in Fahrenheit - but at night we will be dropping down below 10 degrees Celsius - so low to mid 40s maybe at the start of evening.
We start picking at 11:00 p.m., we pick through until 6:00 a.m. The grapes will come in naturally at seven, eight degrees at the start of evening, and by the time we finish picking at 6:00 in the morning probably they're down about at about four degrees Celsius. We're picking at night here. The grapes are naturally cold and then we're going to crush pad very different - we are only just stemming. We de-stem we don't go to press. We actually have a tank so we do full skin contact. We go into tank via a heat exchanger, so we're chilling they grapes down to be between minus one and minus three degree Celsius. Fahrenheit no idea - 25 to 30 degrees something like that. The grapes go into stands in the steel tanks, extremely cold and we're just soaking on skins and we're doing extended maceration. Minimum seven days up to 11 days on skins before we drain and press. That's different I'm sure someone else somewhere in the world does something similar but I certainly haven't heard about it. Definitely no one in Chile is doing 100% skin contact on their whites and definitely not for seven to 11 days that's pretty longtime.
Soak on skins, why do we soak on skins? The reasons are twofold. First off, this vineyard has very unique soils we have granites which are formed via cementation under the pacific ocean 120 million years ago during the cretaceous period, and then uplifted via plate tectonic movement. Casablanca's unique in Chile in that it's the only wine producing valley with no river, so why is there no river? Because the coastal mountain range at the head of the valley is completely intact.
The glaciers in the last ice age they originated in the Andes never managed to breach and then make it out all the way up to the ocean as they did in all the wine producing valleys in Chile. Everywhere else there is a valley that runs pretty much east to west in the Andes up to the ocean and ... First the glaciers curved that valley out and then later on as the glaciers receded it was followed on by rivers. With the rivers you get the alluvial action of stones and new material coming down from the Andes and being deposited on the surface of the original soils, because there is no river here and there was never any glacier and the coastal mountain ranges is intact, we've never had any movement of any material in the valley.
The soils that I was talking about is 120 million year-old granites are now right on the surface. They're actually below only about 30 centimeters of top soil, so the roots actually right within this granite layer and that has a very strong impact on the flavor profile of the wines, but it only has a strong impact if you do skin contact. If you press the grapes straight away, all the flavors in the skins - there is essentially no time for the juice to pick up that flavor. If you're going straight from de-stemmer crusher into the press and press it. What we're doing is to try and pick up that flavor and just, if you like, turn the volume up on the amplifier. Just soak the juice extremely, extremely cold with the skins for those seven days to extract that flavor.
The reason the temperature is important is twofold. First, we don't want the juice to start fermenting on the skins. Obviously the grapes come in with native yeast form the vineyards, so you have to be very careful that that fermentation doesn't kick off in the skins, or you wind up with a wine that smells remarkably like baby sick. Not so attractive. Secondly at this point the seeds are still in there so the very low temperatures are important because I just want to check on the skins not from the seeds. If you're getting above zero degrees, up close to 10 degrees maybe 45 Fahrenheit you're going to be extracting preferentially from the seeds, which leaves tannins, and you're talking about bitter phenolic compounds.
Tannins or phenols that come from the skins are totally different in terms of the part of the mouth they attack, in terms of the sensation they generate. I don't think you can see it if you taste the wine. If you get it into your mouth and you chew it you'll get the sensation that the ferment hits the walls of your mouth and the tongue, and it gives you like a slight puckering sensation. It's almost like you're biting into the rind of a grapefruit or something like that. It's phenolic it is, if you like, bitter, but it's a very agreeable bitter sensation. That's what I'm trying to achieve with this wine just that real puckering sensation.
How long did it take you to come up with this methodology of creating Sauvignon Blanc? You got here ... You inherited a way of doing things and then clearly you've changed things fairly radically.
Well, I was started playing around with skin contact my first year in Chile 15 years ago when I first started to make wine. I was working further south in a hotter region and I was dealing with Sauvignon Blanc. It's a place where Sauvignon Blanc shouldn't be growing because it's way too hot, but I had a little Sauvignon and I had to make Sauvignon Blanc, so obviously I went into it basically picking on flavor. In hotter areas Sauvignon Blanc will hit its flavor peak much earlier than it does here in Casablanca. Here most of our Sauvignon is pushing 14 degrees alcohol, l and that's just because the sugars do their own thing and the flavors accumulate differently. It's all about picking quality flavor for me. In Colchagua where I was before, Sauvignon would be hitting it's flavor peak at about 11 degrees alcohol, not at 14. We would be picking much earlier, but you would be out there and you'd taste the grapes everyday.
Sauvignon changes very rapidly in terms of flavor, so you do have to be there everyday and trying to hit that sweet spot. In the vineyard I would taste the grapes until I'd get to this point where I felt like the flavors were right on and we pick the grapes, but then the grapes would come in. Once you're in the night harvest simply grapes are cold, and into the press we would be pressing, I would be tasting the juice coming out of the press, and I would be going "This just doesn't taste like it did in the vineyard, and I was out there this morning." I started to think in New Zealand we don't make skin contact not deliberately, but everything's machine picked in New Zealand and it goes into the back of dump trucks essentially.
When I was with Villa Maria back in the mid 90s, all the best Sauvignon would go up to the Auckland winery to be processed, but it was all coming from Marlborough. Obviously machine picked at night, into the back of these dump trucks on the morning. In the morning would go into the ferry. It would go from South Island over to the North Island, then it would take about eight hours to get to the winery. We were normally processing it 24 hours or even longer after the grapes were picked and during all this time it was slooshing about in the back of the truck. I started to think it's not intentional skin contact, but it's still contact, so I started playing around with it. It worked really, really well. I started playing around for six hours, and then it went to 12 hours, and then 24.
I came to Casas del Bosque six years ago, and I was already convinced the skin contact was the way to go. Plus, here we have these great soils, which wasn't the case in Colchagua. In Colchagua I wanted to pick up the phenolic compounds from the skins to give the wines a bit more texture, but here is where I entered the secondary consideration of giving the flavor from the vineyard into the wine, so I went more extreme. Plus - because harvest is so much later here since the grapes ripen later because it's a cooler area - night temperatures are so much colder when the grapes are picked. That gave me the possibility to get the grapes into tanks so much colder than I could in Colchagua. I've just extended their time.
I started off on three days six years ago, and then I went to four, and now I've gone up towards as much as 11. For me it works. It gives you an amazing sensation in the mouth, plus that vineyard character comes through so much more stronger in the wine. I think you can see here in this glass. You get this real sensation of silver white pepper and ginger. The salinity comes through clearly and that's coming from the soils. It's only there because we skin contacted the grapes.
Grant, you used to be a DJ. How did you get into DJing and then winemaking?
I've always loved music. I grew up listening to lots of music, and I bought my first record by saving my pocket money - as I think we all did back then - to buy records. I just started DJing with a couple of friends. We put our money together to buy a set of decks and started DJing parties and setting up parties on our own. I got into winemaking because I was traveling already a lot with the winemaking thing. The International DJ thing worked in pretty well sometimes. If I happened to be somewhere selling wine, or whatever, every now and then I got offered a DJing spot in a party, or a rave, or what have you.
I don't do it so much anymore, because I'm pretty busy making wine, but last year I DJ'd a party in Toronto. A couple of years ago I did Bogota. So I still do an international gig every now and then, but it's definitely not at the forefront.
What's the most fun you ever had doing a DJ event?
There's been so many of them, and some of the experiences are very, very random. Probably one of the weirdest gigs I ever did related to wine was our importer in Colombia. He owns a bunch of health spas and restaurants, and things like that. I was up there a couple years ago doing a winemaker dinner at one of his restaurants, and I arrive he goes, "Oh, Grant, I thought I'd set up a party at the spa seeing as you're here, and I thought you could DJ and a buddy of mine is a local musician, he's going to accompany you." I was going, "That's weird. I don't usually have someone accompanying me when I'm DJing." I turn up at this party, and fortunately I had some music with me on MP3, so I turn up and I was introduced to this guy, Carlo Vives, who is a really famous musician in Colombia. I didn't know it at the time. I had no idea who he was. He was there accompanied by his wife, who was the former Miss Colombia, who was up there in the DJ booth with us, and basically I was mixing records, and mixing MP3, and he was sitting there with his bongo drums playing along, so it was pretty surreal.
How did you get into making wine?
To be honest, I was doing my first degree at the time at university in New Zealand, which is a degree in zoology, and I started working in bars, just paying my way through university as you do. Night jobs. I started pouring wine across the bar, and people would ask about the wine and I just got interested and started reading about wine, literally in my spare time. I started drinking a bit of wine and going to tastings, something I found really interesting. One night I was literally pouring a glass of Pinot for this guy. He said, "Grant, tell me about this Pinot," and I was, "Santa Lina Pinot Noir, first New Zealand wine to get a gold medal in London, blah, blah, blah," and he goes, "Man, you know a lot about wine. You should study to be a winemaker." I think I was 19 or 20 years old at the time, and I said, "Surely that's not a job." He goes,"Yeah, there's a university nearby with a wine program. You should check it out." I went the next day and literally enrolled. It was the last day for enrollments, and I thought, "Hey, why not?"
Then you were a flying winemaker for a while.
Worked as a flying winemaker, yeah, in the mid to late 90s. I worked for three different English companies making wine for them in different parts of the world. With those guys I wound up working in California, and Hungary, and France, and Argentina, and eventually in Chile.
You came to Chile and then you stayed. How long have you been here?
Been here for 15 years now.
That's a long time.
More harvests in Chile than anywhere else in the world. Even more than in New Zealand, so yeah.
What was it about Chile that grabbed you?
I think it was the eighth country that I arrived in to make wine. Obviously you work in different regions, and you take different things from the experience of making wine in every different region, but I think what really surprised me the most coming to Chile, and I thought I'd seen it all, but coming here, it was just the amount of old vineyards. There's no phylloxera in Chile. I found myself making entry level supermarket wines for the UK market from 100 or 120 year old Cabernet vineyards. Unirrigated. These spectacular vineyards, and it's just a piece of history, and you don't see that anywhere else in the world. A 120-year-old old Cab vineyard in California would be a rarity, and it would be incredibly expensive. It wouldn't be going into a five or six pound bottle of wine. Whereas in Chile, that kind of thing was reasonably widespread still. For our entry level Cabernet here, I buy a big chunk of the grapes for that blend from a vineyard planted in the year 1900.
I think as a winemaker, a lot of what I love about wine is the tradition and the history. Countless other winemakers before me have fermented the same grapes and made their versions of this vineyard that translate into the bottle. To be able to do that now, to be able to make wine from a vineyard planted before even my grandfather was born, that's still pretty cool.
Tell us about Casas del Bosque.
Casas del Bosque, well it's a family-owned winery. It's owned by the Cuneo family. They started the project originally as just a vineyard, with the idea being to produce and sell grapes. That was back in the year 1993, when Casablanca was just getting started, and they were the first to plant on this side of the valley. This is the most seaward side, therefore the most frost-prone, the coldest part of the valley. At that time no one was really sure whether it was economically viable to produce grapes here, so they were the first to plant a vineyard here. It started off just as a vineyard, and then in 2000 they started making their own wine on a very small scale. Eventually the winery was built, and now we've transmogrified, if you like, into a 130,000 case-a-year winery. We're still relatively small by Chilean standards, but no longer a hobby winery, so to speak.
What do you see as the challenges with Chile as a wine country?
I've been here 15 years, so I've seen quite a few changes already. I think the big challenge for Chile has been, and still is, that it's very dominated by massive wineries. Massive wineries as anywhere in the world, as in California or Australia for example, tend to make pretty bland, pretty uninteresting wines. About 80% of what Chile is producing is still coming from three players in the Chilean market, Concha Y Toro, San Pedro and Santa Rita, so it's still very much like that. I think the problem is that if you were a wine consumer going to go out and taste Chilean wine, chances are you're going to taste one of those wines from the three big guys, and I don't know if you're going to be unimpressed. I think the wines they make are generally really good value for money. Nice wines, but you're not going to be blown away by one of those wines. I think that's probably still the challenge for Chile, is that so much of what's made is made by the big guys who aren't really looking to make interesting, terroir driven wines.
If you were to draw a parallel maybe with New Zealand: You look at New Zealand, and it produces a tenth of the wine that Chile produces, and there are 700 wineries. Chances are when you buy a wine from New Zealand, you're buying it from a very small producer who's going out there and starting off by saying in the vineyard, "What's the thing that we can do better than everyone else?" Whereas verbally, the big guys like the big players in Chile, or Gallo or someone like that in the States, they start off by saying, "What do people want to drink right now?" Then they go to their winemaking team and tell them, "This is the wine that is selling well in the UK supermarkets. This is what we have to make in this style."
I think when you approach winemaking the wrong way like that, that's when the wines become bland and uninspiring. I already mentioned that in Chile, the great thing is these old vineyards. There's exceptional fruit here. There are amazing areas. There are whole valleys that haven't even been planted with a single grapevine yet, so who knows what's going to be happening in five years in Chile? Certainly since I arrived 15 years ago, Casablanca was new and exciting. Since then Leyda exploded, Limari and Elqui have become wine producing regions. They have always been pisco producing regions, but now they're well known for wine. Bio-Bio as a southern region. All these southern regions have started popping up. Atacama in the extreme north. There's just so much to do here, whereas I think if I look at New Zealand today, I feel like New Zealand has done 80% already of what it's ever going to do, and that's all been in the last 25 years.
Chile - I look at Chile and I think it's still maybe 30% of the way there to where it can be in the future. There's a lot more that's going to happen in Chile. I think it's an interesting place for that reason.
How do you see the future of wine in Chile?
No idea. It's an interesting exercise I do every three years pretty much. I write the wine section for The Lonely Planet, the Chile guide. Every three years they get in touch with me and I sit down and I write what is essentially a two page snapshot of what's happening in the Chilean wine industry right now. Every year I just write the vision for the upcoming guide. I write about completely different things every time I do that, because there's totally different stuff happening in the industry all the time. I think that's a really positive thing, because it shows how dynamic the industry is here, and how fast things can change. For example, six years ago I was writing about the explosion in quality Pinot Noir, coastal Pinot Noir vineyards. And then three years ago I was writing about sparkling wine starting to happen, and sparkling wine has just gone crazy here in the last three years. There's always been lots of cheap sparkling wine in Chile, but the move to making Méthode Champenoise, bottle fermented, serious sparkling wine has really just gone crazy in the last three years.
As well, apart from that, MOVI or the groupings of small independent producers, the garagistes if you like, that's gone ballistic in the last five or six years, and it's made the wine scene so much more interesting having those small players making these small batch wines from all over the country. Pais has been rediscovered as a grape variety, thanks to Miguel Torres down south. They didn't want Pais to disappear as a grape variety, because it was becoming extinct, so those guys grabbed Pais and started making sparkling wines and roses. They make some really interesting wines now from Pais, all over southern Chile and by many different producers. The same thing with Carignan. It suddenly became this new thing, and there are some amazing wines being made out of Carignan.
Yeah, God knows what's going to happen. Natural wines already are starting to take off down south. I'm a little bit skeptical about the natural wine thing in general, because most of them aren't very drinkable, but once again, it's a counterpoint to those big guys. It gives people an alternative. I think that it's really important that Chile starts doing new interesting, different stuff. God knows, in three more years Tannat might be the new thing. Maybe Uruguay will put them out of business and Tannat will be coming from Chile. Who knows? There are definitely a lot of different things going on right now, and I think with the appearance of all these new smaller players on the market, it's just diversifying things so much more. I think the ball has started rolling, it's gained momentum, and I think that's going to keep happening for the next five or 10 years at least.
Is there anything that you do that has changed from the vineyard perspective since you've arrived?
There's definitely much more of a focus on making wines that reflect the terroir. The skin contact thing, and the whites are a big part of that, but also there's much more emphasis on vinifying every block separately to make different wines, because everything we make in this cool climate is a single vineyard wine. We make three different Sauvignons from this one vineyard, three different Pinots, two different Syrahs, and a couple of different Chardonnays as well. To be able to create three distinct wines from this one site, you need to be a lot more focused on the terroir and the different soil types and everything else. I think that's probably the main difference. The skin contact thing has been huge. That signified a very important change in the process there, but also just keeping everything separate. All these small barrel lots, everything fermenting away. It's a lot more work, but it increases blending options later on to be able to create wines that are completely different.