On my last visit to Chile at the end of 2017-beginning of 2018, I had the chance to visit 2 wine regions, first of them was Colchagua Valley (you can read my adventures here) and the second one was Itata Valley. In Colchagua Valley I’ve spent 3 days while in Itata Valley only 1. However, in my previous trip to Chile in 2016, I have already visited Itata Valley, seen some vineyards and tasted some wines, so I will also add some of that experience here.
Guillermo Pascual, the Enology professor of Universidad de Concepción is taking me and Francisco Diez around to show us the vineyards of Itata. Francisco already know this area very well, since he worked in the vineyards of Itata, back in 2010, giving consultancy to the grape growers, graduated from Agriculture Engineering of this university and finally in 2015, he, with his partners, produced his own wine of Cinsault grapes from old vineyards of Itata Valley.
If you ever want to visit this breathtaking wine region, I suggest you to go with someone who knows the roads and definitely have a jeep or truck to be able to travel safely. Because the roads are very bumpy and dusty and not very good indicated since it’s a pure country side.
Before starting, I just would like to say a couple of things about Itata Valley. It is known that in 1550s, the first vine of Chile have arrived to vicinity of city of Concepción, which is close to Itata Valley (1). This was a red grape variety called País, which I will give more information soon. Although Itata Valley was the first region to produce grapes in Chile, it lost its fame when the wine growing regions started to localize more in the central regions (2). Although the old vine plantations decreasing in Itata Valley, there are producers who make the best of it and keep alive the wine production tradition in the region; they produce some unique wines with a long history behind.
We started our tour with a visit to the vineyards of Pandolfi Price (3) in Santa Inés. I’ve actually tasted and liked a wine of Pandolfi Price in 2015 in Bordeaux during a lovely dinner. We paired their Los Patricios Chardonnay from 2012, with oysters from Cap-Ferret. It was a very good pairing, I still remember and always wanted to see the vineyards of this wine.
As we arrived to Viña Santa Inés, the vineyard dogs welcomed us and they accompanied us all the way through the vineyards.
Pandolfi Price is a project of Pandolfi family who decided to produce wine in 2002, in Santa Inés. They started to plant Chardonnay in the coast of Larqui River, and today they are producing worldwide recognized high quality wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah (3).
After this visit, we said goodbye to the vineyard dogs and heading deeper to Itata.
After a very bumpy drive, we arrive to Ránquil. Here we started to see the local varieties of the valley which are Moscatel de Alejandría, País and Cinsault.
Moscatel de Alejandría is a member of Muscat family from Vitis Vinifera. It is known that, in Chile, Muscat of Alexandria started to be grown in La Serena, in the early 18th century. It became linked to Pisco (Chilean brandy) industry almost since its origins in La Serena, a relation that has remained until today (4). In Itata Valley, it is grown to make still or sparkling wines. País, a red grape variety known as Mission, which the Spanish missioners introduced to America to use in making sacramental and table wines. País is originally from Canary Island, where it is called Listan Prieto. And finally, Cinsault, I believe most of you know this variety well from the delicious blends of red or rosé wines from South of France.
Not very far from there, we are heading to winery called Viña Mirador del Valle and to meet the producer and winemaker, Lucía Torres.
I suggest you to contact to Lucía Torres before your visit, let her know that you are coming so she can prepare a tasting for you. And when you arrive, beware of the vineyard dogs – which were not very friendly as the previous ones.
When you arrive, the winery building will not impress you: It is an old cottage with some tanks inside. But what achieves Lucía Torres inside, will definitely impress you. She is producing wines only from her own grapes, makes a dry, a semi sweet and a sparkling wine from Moscatel de Alejandría. She won international recognition and medals with her wines (5). In each sip of her wines, it is possible to feel all the work and sacrifice done to produce them.
Following this, we went to Mirador that gave the name to the winery. The view from this Mirador is just breathtaking. I expect that this trip would be nice, but this was beyond my expectations.
Another characteristics of these grapes are their trellis system. They are planted traditionally in gobelet system, it is also known as ‘bush vine’. Gobelet (6) is known as an ancient trellis system that was used by Romans to prune their wines in that époque. It is generally used in Mediterranean climate, in warm and dry winemaking regions to decrease the effect of direct sunlight to the grapes thanks to its shape like an umbrella. It also can be advantageous when pruned in a way that the clusters of grapes don’t touch to each other and the air can flow freely in between them. However, as you can see here, if the trunk of the vine is not high enough, the clusters touch the soil. This increases the bunch temperature of the grapes and decrease the varietal aromas while it makes them dusty at the same time.
Another advantage of this trellis system is absence of wires, wood or any type of supporting material, which decrease the cost of plantation, it’s just natural. Despite all the advantages, the main reason why gobelet system is decreasing nowadays is the difficulty in adaptation to mechanization. Every work done in these vineyards is done by hand, vine by vine, which requires a lot of experience and patience.
I have read in couple of sources where they categorized climate of Itata valley as “cool-climate” and some other sources as “cool Mediterranean climate”. In this sense, we should keep in mind the effect of proximity to the coast which creates the cooling effect and it has a cooler climate in comparison to other wine regions of Chile.
Just a quick throwback to 2016, when I attended a lunch which was organized for Ricardo Merino from University of Conception, who is the co-foundator of Asociacion Gremial de Enologos y Profesionales del Vino del Valle del Itata AGEPVVI (7) and who is an important promoter and defender of viticulture in Itata Valley. The lunch was held in the vineyards of Riveras de Chillan (8). As well as meeting a lot of people from the university and wine sector of Itata, this lunch was a great opportunity to taste traditional food of Chile and pair them with wines of Itata Valley.
If you visit Itata Valley and want to turn back home with some local and rare wines, I can suggest you two wine shops to visit: First one is in the Mall Arauco (9) Chillán, called Tienda Mundo Rural (10), they have only wines from the region. You can find both still and sparkling wines, produced with traditional grapes of the region including Semillón, Moscatel de Alejandría, País, Torontel, Cinsault and Carignan.
The second one is called “De Blancos a Tintos” (11), from whites to reds. This shop is owned by a sommelier, Fernanda Chartier Muñoz, who works there and chooses the best wines of the region for her shop and she has very rare findings! I strongly recommend this place. She frequently organizes some wine tasting for the consumers that you can attend to have a chance to taste some local wines. I will definitely keep this in mind for my previous visits…
All images © 2018 by Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.
- Nahrwold H., Vinos de Chile, 2013.