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The Wine Show: episode five – earthquake in a glass

The Wine Show: episode five – earthquake in a glass

by Amelia Singer 10 May 2016

Amelia Singer highlights the issues faced by Chilean winemakers after the huge earthquake hit back in 2010, and talks us through what happens on the latest episode of the show.

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Wine doesn’t exist in a bubble. Like any living thing, it gets caught up by its nearby surroundings; be they cultural disputes, political sanctions and, of course, natural disasters. In this episode The Wine Show travels through Moldova, India and Chile, all of which reveal wine being ensnared by these various webs. However, the prevailing undertone of the show is one of hope. It celebrates people who face adversity and ultimately create new chapters in their lives. By that token they create deeper roots not only in the vineyards but also in the community that surrounds them.

Joe’s journey to Maule in Chile especially resonated with me. He investigates the affects of the geological and social upheaval in Chile after the 2010 earthquake struck. It was the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded, at 8.8 on the Richter scale. Although I worked on a Chilean winery in the the Maipo Valley for six months in 2011, that area was relatively unscathed by the earthquake. The traditional wineries, often passion projects by Santiago-based Chilean grandees, were still operating and providing the world with the international grapes that put Chile on the map – Cabernet and Chardonnay. The earthquake had been a disaster nationally, destroying twelve percent of Chile’s stored wine. But the Maipo and other established wine regions like Casablanca and Colchagua carried on as normal.

Further south was a different story – livelihoods as well as lives were utterly devastated, and the winemakers in the poorest parts of the country were some of the most affected. Joe visited a village where out of 155 homes, only fifteen were left standing. The hills emptied, with lots of the young in particular fleeing to local towns and cities, searching for new opportunities. It is still possible to see destroyed and deserted houses dotted around Maule today. It is a resonant reminder to all remaining farmers and winemakers; they are not only living in but are trying to make a living from the most seismically-active place in the world.

And yet, it could be argued that this physical change actually allowed these winemakers to capitalise on the already evolving infrastructure of the Chilean wine industry. At this point new grapes and regions were being discovered. More winemakers were able to invest in their own wineries and foreign investors were creating their own signature Chilean wines. This challenged the large, well-known wineries based around Santiago. In the episode Joe had a barbecue with a bunch of winemakers in the Maule who all belong to the MOVI group. The MOVI movement was a group of ambitious small-scale wine producers dotted around the country who realised, in 2009, that by joining together and singing the praises of small companies versus big, they could create much more noise than by operating independently. Their decibels still reverberate strongly today.

From Canada to Chile

The earthquake in 2010 may have caused mass destruction, but the land it split was never more creatively fertile. Joe meets Dereck Knapp, a wine-loving Canadian that originally came to Chile to ski. He created Garage Wines after he spotted that Chile had a completely unrealised and so far un-marketed asset in the vineyards of its less glamorous wine region, Maule. After the earthquake it was Dereck who saw that an old-vine Carignan grape initiative would appeal to modern wine consumers in search of authenticity, but that it could also help local farmers and the Chilean wine industry to re-evaluate the produce of Maule. Wineries of all sizes supported him.

It wasn’t only the Carignan grape which flourished from this movement. A new dialogue of engagement and creativity grew out of it, and grapes across the Maule went through a renaissance. Pais, a native and previously shunned ‘workhorse’ grape has a particularly incredible rags to riches story. Nowadays you can't walk past a trendy natural wine bar in east London without finding a glass of it.

And that’s another thing. These grapes, as well as offering something authentic for the adventurous consumer, also tick the boxes of topical drinking trends. Most of the grapes from the Maule are grown on organic, dry-farmed land worked by horses and the winemakers create wines in as ‘natural’ a way as possible. Many use tinajas, ancient earthenware fermentation vessels eerily similar to the amphorae and expensive ‘concrete eggs’ being adopted by fashion-conscious natural wine producers in the rest of the world. In an age where drinkers have never been more discerning about provenance, these wines, with their rich heritage and pared back winemaking techniques, offer something more than a refreshing, earthy, often very food-friendly beverage – they have a story.

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The Wine Show: episode five – earthquake in a glass


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