Single Vineyard: Finding Uniqueness
The number of wineries exploring new terroirs that will produce those different, unique wines that portray the individuality of their various origins never ceases to grow. Their single vineyard lines are no longer a pledge or a legend on a label. They are an appealing and consistent reality.
This very concept is both misleading for the most unsuspecting consumers and the reason for seasoned wine drinkers to grin skeptically. The single vineyard wine, a designation increasingly more widespread among chilean labels, encompasses a winegrowing philosophy, a pledge, an act of trust. Whenever we drink one of these wines, our senses immediately converge into a unique, defined space, a small corner of the world with homogeneous characteristics –soil, mesoclimate, sun exposure, etc.–, but also into a way to understand winegrowing that goes beyond uncorking a good bottle of wine.
This is not about finding perfection, ‘the’ blend of grapes from different zones to boost some varieties with others or to conceal their shortcomings. This is about conveying the true expression of the attributes of a given place. Is a single vineyard wine better than a wine that combines grapes from various lots, valleys or regions? Not necessarily. However, this added-value product defies standardization and commodities to offer a small, changing, and unrivalled universe.
I remember when María Luz Marín launched her project at Lo Abarca. The industry was enthusiastic but bewildered. planting vines at merely 4 km from the ocean was total madness. Attempting to impose a limited portfolio of wines, with varieties capable of defying the never-ending cold breeze was a folly as well. But what many saw as complete nonsense or literally commercial suicide was to bottle two Sauvignon Blancs from different soils and exposures. however, not only do Laurel and Cipreses complement each other by showcasing the identities of their own origins, but they also strengthen the commitment of Casa Marín to produce terroir wines.
AN UNUSUAL DEBATE
The problem with the single vineyard concept is that it tends to rest on paper. Like the premium or icon designations that mostly stem from marketing rather than from technical and winemaking criteria, deciding whether a product meets what the label promises may be much of a quandary. A wine originating in a particular
vineyard is too wide of a definition. There are no clear parameters as to the size of the territory –can we speak of a single vineyard wine if it comes from a 100-hectare lot?–, edaphoclimatic conditions or even its quality potential. Although quality is a subjective in itself, if a single vineyard wine fails to meet certain organoleptic standards or conventions or to offer a differentiating point of view from its rivals, the pledge becomes either fruitless or empty.
Going against their French, Italian or Spanish ancestry, many chilean companies sought to produce –and some still attempt to do so– the widest possible selection of varieties within the same territory, that is, from chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Merlot, to Carmenère and to Syrah. Although properties are divided into different vineyards or lots depending on their characteristics or yield potential, quite frankly, you cannot excel in all fronts. Moreover, soil and climate studies
need to be conducted to ensure that every sector is truly homogeneous and can be managed in a differentiated way. The soil, for example, will not only affect the development the vine and the quality potential of grapes, but it will also determine planning from irrigation to management in all the extent of its application.
After catching up and having completed all the relevant studies, many wineries have been forced to change the design of their vineyards. Today, Chilean vineyards consist of odd-shaped, polygonal lots managed differently in terms of pruning, leaf plucking and harvest times. Nevertheless, all those efforts prove to be insufficient if the irrigation system fails to be modified. This has led wineries to make substantial investments to adapt pipes, nozzles or sprayers at vineyards so that each row and each vine receive the exact amount of water required to develop at best.
Other wineries have consolidated an ironclad identification with a certain valley or zone in Chile, going beyond their own limits to find other terroirs, other conditions that will ensure that every variety will attain maximum expression so that wines can be outstanding. These new single vineyard wines that dare to counter complacency and even move away from the ‘selling’ estate bottled concept– have refurbished the local portfolio and are now showing a more mature, perhaps more colorful side, thus standing out among the crowds of monovarietals that quenched the thirst of importers and distributors around the world for a long time.
Today, most chilean wineries from the border of the Atacama Desert to the far south go beyond the time- worn varietal, reserve and grand reserve designations. Among their categories and their top-of-the-line products, whether called premium, super premium or icon, they now feature single vineyard lines to grow in diversity, to experiment, to loosen up, to enhance their portfolio, to consolidate the relationship with the various terroirs and ultimately to bottle their own and unique wine.
THE NORTHERN GATEWAY
Even though young in winegrowing terms but experienced when it comes to pisco production, the Limarí Valley has grown exponentially. In these lime-rich soils
and a dry climate that allows harvest times to be extended, wineries have succeeded in producing an attractive wine portfolio where Chardonnays and
Syrahs are genuine stars. Although at the beginning exceptional climatic conditions, like the clear skies and little or no precipitations during harvest time, were thought to favor the natural development of late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Carmenère, the very characteristics of the soils and the influence of the ocean have taken pioneers to change their minds.
At present, wineries like Tamaya, Tabalí and Maycas del Limarí are more aware of the ground they are treading on –or not–, and have spotted ideal places for each variety where they make the best of slopes, proximity to riverbeds, and the limestone and clay contents in every type of soil. With such knowledge as a starting point, learning from trial and error and after hundreds of soil pits, these pioneering wineries now produce consistent terroir lines like Tamaya’s T (Chardonnay, Syrah, Carmenère, Malbec, and Blanc de Blancs); Tabalí’s Talinay (Camanchaca Chardonnay and Salala Pinot Noir, both from Fray Jorge’s most coastal area) and Maycas del Limarí’s Reserva Especial (Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir).
Farther south, in the Aconcagua region, one of the traditional wineries –Errázuriz– is producing one of the most consistent lines in the market. The winery has gone as far as producing two versions of the same variety. Thus, Chilhué and Manzanar from their new vineyard in Aconcagua Costa have joined their renowned Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from La Escultura Estate in Casablanca. The same is true for Pinot Noir and Syrah. This bold undertaking has strengthened their proposal and allowed this pioneering winery from Panquehue to move to a brand new level.
THE TRADITIONAL MAIPO
If there is a winery that calls the shots and that has turned single vineyard wines into a category of their own, that one is De Martino. Located on the alluvial soils of Isla de Maipo, home of the first wine exported under the Carmenère name, this winery rethought its entire business to launch its terroir wines. True to its Italian descent, De Martino has been looking for the best spots for each variety since 1996. From Elqui to Bío-Bío, the winery has vinified over 350 vineyards, faithfully reflecting the character and identity of the various terroirs without resorting to winemaking tricks or practices that can alter the typicity of their fruit.
Their single vineyard line features as many as 10 wines from vineyards in the north, south, mountain, and coastal areas from virtually all the regions in viticultural Chile:
Alto Los Toros (Syrah, Elqui), Quebrada Seca (Chardonnay, Limarí), Parcela 5 (Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca), Las Águilas (Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo), Alto de Piedras (Carmenère, Isla de Maipo), Las Cruces (Malbec and Carmenère, interior drylands, Cachapoal), Granito (Syrah, Coastal Mountain range, Cachapoal), El León (Carignan and small amounts of Carmenère and Malbec, interior drylands, Maule), Limávida (Malbec, Carmenère, Carignan, and Tannat, interior drylands, Maule) and La Aguada (Carignan and some small percentages of Malbec and Cinsault, interior drylands, Maule).
This road to specialization, conviction and surprise has also been successfully walked by other Maipo- based wineries like Undurraga (T.H.), Concha y Toro (Terrunyo and Marqués de Casa Concha), Terra Mater (Chardonnay from Casablanca, Merlot and Shiraz from Maipo, and a spicy and deep Cabernet Sauvignon from the Andean foothills in the Curicó valley) and Santa Carolina whose specialties line boosts the fruit from their vineyards while portraying a much more daring and up-to-the-minute image. Their wines Hidden Creek Chardonnay (Limarí), Ocean Side Sauvignon Blanc (San Antonio), Coastal Hills (Maipo), Wild Spirit Mourvèdre (Cachapoal), West Andes Malbec (Cachapoal) and Dry Farming Carignan (Cauquenes) have discovered and tapped on some of the best terroirs for each variety and play with a number of styles, from the moving mineral character of the northern coastal areas to the wise balance of the ancient vines in Maule’s dry-farmed areas.
FROM COLCHAGUA TO THE SOUTH
Following the steps of signature wineries like Casa Silva and Viu Manent that have consolidated their own single vineyard lines, the traditional wineries
in Colchagua have also launched attractive and interesting products. Emiliana has innovated with Signos de Origen (Syrah from Casablanca, Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo and Carmenère from Colchagua), Bisquertt with Ecos de Rulo, (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot and Malbec from its various estates in Colchagua), Cono Sur with Single Vineyard (from Casablanca to Bío-Bío) and Montes with Outer Limits (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Zapallar, and its Mediterranean blend from Apalta).
The case of the young Viña Maquis is a paradigm. in the early stages, the project consisted of a single wine. Lien was intended as a summary, a benchmark, the best blend from its vineyards located where river Tinguiririca and the Chimbarongo stream converge. However, the reality of the markets forced a change in plans. After extensive soil studies through which every inch of their vineyards was mapped, the winery’s portfolio now features not only variety but great consistency, from a juicy and fresh Carmenère to a monument to Cabernet Franc, its current top product Franco.
Farther south, Miguel Torres initially chose Curicó for its great South American project but eventually turned into a multi-valley winery with operations stretching from Limarí down to Maule. Their Cordillera line consists of Chardonnay (Limarí), Carmenère (Curicó), Syrah (Maule) and Carignan (Maule), as well as two single vineyard wines that boast their remarkable personalities: Manso de Velasco, from 100+ year-old vines in Curicó and Nectaria, a rich and complex botrytized late harvest from Molina.
Still, if we want to talk about pioneers of the single vineyard wine concept, we must speak of Valdivieso, a winery that during the past decade has been developing a tremendously consistent 8-wine line: Cabernet Sauvignon (Hacienda Chada, Maipo Alto), Cabernet Franc (Santa Victoria, Colchagua), Malbec (La Rosa, Sagrada Familia), Merlot (La Primavera, Sagrada Familia), Carmenère (Apalta, Colchagua), Pinot Noir (Cauquenes, Maule), Chardonnay (Leyda), and Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda).
This line is the vivid proof of the winery’s commitment to quality and daring personality. even if it includes some consolidated terroirs like Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Alto or Carmenère from Apalta, their bet on pinot noir has caused heads to turn. While most wineries have chosen Casablanca or Leyda for their best Pinot Noirs, Valdivieso opted for a vineyard on the coast of Cauquenes. And the outcome was a structured, vibrant, fruity and outspoken wine. Also surprising is
the impressive aging potential of their wines. We tasted Chardonnay 2005, 2006 and 2007 from Leyda and we must say it is an increasingly complex white that develops new and attractive layers of aromas.
Truth be told, chilean single vineyard wines no longer baffle but excite consumers every year. These wines prove that an industry that remained dormant for decades is now awake, driven by innovation and ready to offer a much more mature, attractive and distinct approach. A unique one.
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