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Chilean Wines: Sustainability is a Long Game

January 22, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Sustainability is a journey.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Sustainability is a long game.

Have you ever dieted in your life? Did you achieve the intended results (let’s say, lose 20 pounds)? Did you go back where you started shortly after you stopped the diet? Of course, you already heard this a million times and you know what I’m going to say – diets don’t work. You need to change your lifestyle if you want those lost pounds to never come back, because the diet is a hack, and as such, it can give you only a quick and non-lasting, non-sustainable result.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

When I think of sustainability my first thought goes to the vineyard. How vineyard integrates into the environment, how vineyard, land, soil, and everything around can happily co-exist now and in the future. My second obvious thought goes to the winery operation – sustainable energy use, recycling, waste reduction.

In 2011, the Chilean wine industry defined its Sustainability Code, a voluntary certification system aimed to improve sustainable practices in the wine companies in Chile. In 2011, it all started in the vineyard. Today, the Sustainability Code for the Chilean Wine Industry (SCWI) represents a colorful flower, consisting of 4 areas, and featuring 351 individual requirements:

  • Viticulture (98 individual requirements /Green)
  • Vinification, Bottling, and facility operations (65 individual requirements /Red)
  • Social (118 individual requirements /Orange)
  • Wine Tourism (70 individual requirements /Purple) — new category added in 2020

In the ten years since its inception, SCWI has been adopted by all the country’s leading wine producers and accounts for 80% of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Wines from certified producers come from 123,550 acres of vineyards, out of 485,000 acres of total vineyard space in Chile, so roughly 25%.

The certification is done by the accredited international bodies (ECOCERT from France, NSF from the USA, and SGS from Switzerland, a few more should be added soon), and it is an ongoing process, as re-certification has to be done every two years. Certification has a substantial cost, so Vinos de Chile has a special program in place to help small and medium producers to achieve certification. To date, 80 wineries achieved full certification – if you will look at the list, you will see a lot of familiar names. Some, such as Casa Lapostole, one of the most famous Chilean wineries, use its own set of sustainability rules.

I had an opportunity last year to taste a number of wines from the certified sustainable Chilean wineries. Let’s talk about them.

Viñedos Emiliana (now known as Emiliana Organic Vineyards) was founded in 1986. However it is interesting that if you will check the history section on Emiliana’s website, the time count starts from 1998 – this is when Emiliana began its journey to convert into a sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winery. In 2001, Emiliana became 1st winery in Chile, and 7th in the world to obtain ISO 14001 certification in environmental management. Two years later, Emiliana produced its first organic wines (Coyam was one of them). In 2006, the winery obtained its Demeter certification and produced its first biodynamic wine, 2003 Gê. Moving forward, Emiliana obtained multiple certifications in social responsibility, fair trade, carbon neutrality, and more. As a fun fact, with 2,760 acres in size, Emiliana is the largest biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyard in the world.

The wine I tasted for this post was 2018 Coyam. Back in 2015, the 2011 Coyam was my wine of the year. The 2018 Coyam was good, but really needed lots of time to open up.

2018 Emeliana Coyam Colchagua Valley DO (14.4% ABV, $35, 42% Syrah, 39% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Garnacha, 3% Malbec, 3% Carignan, 1% Tempranillo, 1% Mourvedre, organic vineyards, vegan)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, cherries, cassis
Beautiful, cassis, mint, medium-plus body, good balance, good acidity
8, these are the 3rd day notes, this wine needs time.

Viu Manent‘s history began in 1935, when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons founded Bodegas Viu, bottling and selling their own wines. In 1966, Miguel Viu-Manent, one of the sons, acquired an estate in Colchagua Valley which also included 375 acres of vineyards, planted with pre-phylloxera vines. In 1993, Viu Manent became the first Chilean winery to produce, bottle, and label Malbec under its name. In 2001, as a tribute to the founder, Miguel Viu-Manent, Viu Manent produced its single-block Malbec from approximately 100 years old vines. In 2003, the winery started producing its Secreto de Viu Manent line of wines. In 2007, Viu Manent joined the environmental biodiversity program run in Chile by the University Austral of Chile’s Ecology & Biodiversity Institute. In 2018, 3 solar panel energy plants were put into production at the winery and in the vineyards. The winery also participates in wastewater and solid waste management programs and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

2019 Viu Manent Secreto Malbec Valle de Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $15, Malbec 85%, 15% “Secret”)
Dark garnet, almost black
Raspberries, blackberries, cigar box
Fresh raspberries on the palate, fresh, open, good minerality, a bit astringent on the finish even on the second day. Needs time.
7+ On the second day
8- on the third day

Viña Maquis, an estate located between two rivers, the Tinguiririca River and the Chimbarongo Creek, traces its roots to the 18th century when Jesuit priests were producing noble wines on the property. In the 19th century, the property belonged to the two Chilean presidents who even hosted cabinet meetings at that location. In 1916, the property was acquired by the Hurtado family with the goal of producing fine wines. Viña Maquis was one of the first wineries to obtain sustainability certification. They use in the vineyard energy recovery system based on geothermal heat pump technology for which the winery won the 2013 Innovation Prize for energy saving and carbon footprint reduction awarded by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce. They also use biological corridors which host beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and more than 2,600 sheep help control the weeds and fertilize the vineyards.

2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $24, 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carménère, 3% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Cassis, cassis leaves, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, crisp, medium body.
7+/8-

Concha y Toro is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, founded in 1883 by Melchor Concha y Toro with a dream of producing the best wines. He brought in vines from the Bordeaux and built the winery with all the best equipment at a time. As Concha y Toro was transitioning from a family business to a corporation, 50 years later the wine export started, the Netherlands being a first international destination. In 1987, Concha y Toro released the first vintage of its iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor, named in the honor of the founder. In 2020, James Suckling awarded 2018 Don Melchor a perfect 100 score.

In 2021, Concha y Toro received B Corporation Certification, which recognizes companies around the world that meet the highest standards of environmental management, governance, and social performance. This B Corporation certification included metrics such as 100% drip irrigation, 97% of waste reused/ recycled, 24% reduction of waste over 2018, 83% of energy coming from renewable sources. Concha y Toro also works with the scientific community and Wines of Chile to develop a measurable roadmap for carbon footprint reduction.

2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Riserva DO Marchigue (13.5% ABV, $17, 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carmenere, 2.5% Syrah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Summer meadows, a touch of cassis, hint of mint
Open, fresh with happily gripping tannins (French oak), firm structure, fresh fruit, needs time
8-, will be great with the steak.
8+ second/ third day – wine became more integrated, polished, layered, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

In 1885, Francisco Undurraga imported vines from France and Germany and founded the Viña Undurraga winery. In 1903, Viña Undurraga became the first Chilean winery to export its wines to the USA. In 1942, under the management of Pedro Undurraga Fernández, the winery becomes a pioneer in exporting Chilean wines, reaching more than 60 countries. In 2006, the Los Lingues far was acquired, giving a start to Viña Koyle, which in 2009 started the transition to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture.

2019 Viña Koyle Carmenere Gran Reserva Alto Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $17, 85% Carmenere, 9% Tempranillo, 6% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cassis, a hint of underbrush, fresh dark fruit, inviting
Fresh berries, dark chocolate, a hint of sweet tobacco, round, succulent, excellent t balance, medium-long finish
8, excellent

In 1874, the winemaker Don Franciso de Rojas founded the winery in Maipo Valley which he called Viña de Rojas. In 1876, one of his wines received Silver Medal at a competition in Philadelphia in the USA. Now here is the rare happenstance with the transition of the name from Viña de Rojas to Viña Tarapacá. In 1892, the winery was acquired by Don Antonio Zavala and it became Viña Zavala. After the divorce, the winery became alimony assigned to his wife, who renamed the winery Viña Tarapacá ex Zavala to express her gratitude to her divorce lawyer Don Arturo Alessandri who had a nickname “The Lion of Tarapacá”. In 1992, the winery was acquired by the holding company with a focus on international expansion. In the same year, the winery acquired El Rosario Estate, 6,500 acres parcel, out of which 1530 acres are planted with vines, right in the heart of Maipo Valley. In 2008, Viña Tarapacá became a part of VSPT Group, the second-largest exporter of Chilean wines.

The winery holds a large number of environmental and sustainability certifications, and in 2016 it also became the Chilean winery to build a hydroelectric plant, capable of supplying 60% of all winery’s energy needs.

2018 Viña Tarapacá Red Wine Blend Gran Reserva Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $20, 31% Cabernet Franc, 26% Syrah, 22% Carmenere, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, organic wine)
Dark garnet, almost black
Delicious nose of mint, currant, a touch of sweet basil and thyme
Ripe berries, firm structure, gripping tannins, a touch of cherries and black pepper, good acidity, excellent balance.
8+, delicious, but will be amazing in 10-15 years.

Here you go, my friends. Chilean wineries take sustainability seriously and show the world how it should be done. And they also support it with delicious wines. Sustainability is a lifestyle.

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