Today, we’re visiting the vineyards of the Itata Valley wine region. One day is not enough to visit and devour all, but it’s a good start.
Itata Valley is one of the oldest wine-growing regions of Chile. It’s known that in the 1550s, the first vine of Chile arrived in the vicinity of the city of Concepción, which is close to Itata Valley. This was a red grape variety called País. Although Itata Valley was one of the first regions to produce grapes in Chile, it had lost its fame when the wine growing regions started to localize more in the central regions. Unfortunately, some of the old vine plantations have been pulled out in Itata Valley. However, thankfully, there are some producers who make the best of their region and who keep alive the tradition of wine production; by producing some unique wines from their land.
If you ever want to visit the breathtaking vineyards of Itata, I’d suggest you do two things: First, go with someone who knows the region and the roads. Second, use a jeep or truck to be able to travel safely. The roads are very bumpy and dusty, and the directions aren’t very well indicated since it’s in the countryside. As we are getting away from the city center, we understand better why it’s a good idea to travel with a truck. And luckily, our guides today are Guillermo and Francisco, who know very well this area, and the winemaking scenery.
We have three vineyard stops today: Santa Inés, Ránquil and Coelemu. Be prepared to see the ancient grapevines, meet local producers, talk about challenges of local growers, learn about grape varieties grown in the region and the gobelet system. At the end of the trip, we can also stop in a wine shop to buy local wines. Let’s begin.
Pandolfi Price in Santa Inés
We are starting our trip with a visit to the vineyards of Pandolfi Price in Santa Inés. As we arrive, the vineyard dogs welcome us and they accompany 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.
After this visit, we say goodbye to the vineyard dogs and head deeper to Itata.
Grape varieties in Itata Valley
Our bumpy drive continues until Ránquil. Here we start to see the local varieties of the valley – Moscatel de Alejandría, País and Cinsault.
Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) is a member of the Muscat family from Vitis Vinifera. It’s known to have started to be grown in La Serena in the early 18th century. It became linked to the Pisco industry almost since its origins in La Serena, a relation that has remained until today. In Itata Valley, it’s grown to make still or sparkling wines.
País is a red grape variety, also known as Mission, or Listan Prieto. Spanish missionaries introduced it to America for using it to make sacramental and table wines. In Itata Valley, it gives light-colored red wines with refreshing acidity and red fruit aromas.
Cinsault is a well-known red grape variety used to make red and rosé wines from the South of France. In Itata Valley, it’s used as single varietal or in blend with País to produce fruit forward young wines.
Ránquil and Viña Mirador del Valle
In Ránquil we head to winery Viña Mirador del Valle to meet the grower and winemaker, Lucía Torres. If you want to see what it’s possible to achieve when you are committed to your terrain, you should meet Lucía Torres. Contact her in advance and let her know that you are coming, so she could prepare a tasting for you. And one more suggestion: When you arrive, beware of the vineyard dogs – they don’t look as friendly as Pandolfi Price’s dogs.
When we arrive, the winery building might not impress you: It’s an old cottage with some tanks inside. But what achieves Lucía Torres inside is definitely impressive. 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. In each sip of her wines, it’s possible to feel all the work and sacrifice done to produce them.
Lucía Torres is very pleased to receive us, and to see Guillermo. She and Guillermo have been collaborating for different projects, both in the cellar and in the vineyards. She’s always open to research and innovation.
Following this, we go to Mirador, which gives the name to the winery. The view from this Mirador is just breathtaking. Look down from the terrace and try to imagine all the efforts that have to be done to take care of these vines.
Looking at this beautiful vineyard, Francisco explains that all the vineyard practices in this region are done by dry farming – meaning no irrigation system is in place to water the vines to avoid stress. Dry farming in the region occurred naturally, since the local varieties grown in the valley are very well adapted to dry conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that there are no precautions to avoid water stress: The grape growers till their soil in the region, to allow the water to penetrate and be absorbed by the soil.
In this area all the vines are planted traditionally in the gobelet system, also known as ‘bush vine’.
Gobelet is an ancient trellis system that was used by Romans to prune their wines by then. Nowadays you can see it mostly 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’s also advantageous when pruned in a way that the clusters of grapes don’t touch each other and the air can flow freely in between them. However, if the trunk of the vine is not high enough, the clusters touch the soil. This increases the bunch temperature of the grapes and decreases the varietal aromas while it makes them dusty at the same time. Finally, no wires, wood or any type of supporting material is used for this system, which decreases the cost of plantation. It’s all natural.
Despite all the advantages, the main reason why the gobelet system is decreasing nowadays is the difficulty in adaptation to mechanization. Every work in these vineyards is done by hand, vine by vine, which requires a lot of experience and patience.
Our final stop is the vineyards of Coelemu. Seeing this beautiful grape growing region, with well-suited varieties and unique characteristics, it’s hard to understand why vines have been pulled out. Guillermo explains that the grape prices are so low that they don’t compensate for the production costs of the growers. And he continues with the good news: University of Conception collaborated with government and different private entities for working with the producers, so they can advance in the production chain to ferment their own grapes and put a value-added product into market.
Our vineyard visits end here, but if anyone wants to buy local wines we can make two more stops in wine shops. First one is in downtown, Tienda Mundo Rural. 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 De Blancos a Tintos, meaning from whites to reds. This shop is owned by a sommelier who chooses the best wines of the region and she has very rare findings. Keep in mind that she frequently organizes wine tasting for the consumers that you can attend to have a chance to taste some local wines.
Our day in Itata Valley finishes with the stunning views of vineyards in my mind, and with different thoughts and feelings. After seeing those ancient vines, my appreciation of this glorious, strong and fructiferous plant increased even more. These vines are like history books of the region, and people who are managing these vineyards and making wine are the ones who protect the history.
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