It is being a vineyard that grows its plants without the use of synthetic chemical products.
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How does that work?
We, for example, do not use chemicals to fertilize our soil, but instead use compost that we make with grape skins, stems, and cow manure. We also fertilize them with plants that have the ability to fix nitrogen, such as legumes.
And how do they control pests and diseases?
The usual thing is to buy a pesticide, apply it and that’s it, but what we do is generate biodiversity, create a balance between the insects that can cause you a problem and the insects that help you control them. And we promote this biodiversity with biological corridors, paths of trees and native plants that connect the natural areas with all parts of the vineyard. And then we also plant certain plants that attract these insects, so they can enter the vineyard. The third leg of this is that herbicides are not applied to kill any plant that grows near the vine, so that it does not generate competition. What we do, when we need it, is that we remove them mechanically, with tractors. Because what we want are living soils, that have life.
In 1998. Before we were a traditional agricultural vineyard, that is, we used chemicals to produce grapes and in the winery also to make wines. The turning point came from the owners, the Guilisasti brothers, and especially José, who was an agricultural engineer. His family had farms in the south and he began to realize that something was wrong with the application of chemicals to the crops. That leads him to meet models of organic agriculture in California and to come into contact with characters like Mike Benziger and Alan York. There he began to be motivated and proposed to make this transformation, which began in the Los Robles estate, in Colchagua, with 30 hectares.
A big jump…
Yes, and at first the vineyard suffered a lot, because it was a vineyard completely dependent on human beings and what you gave them. The analogy is that of a person who is very used to some drugs and you take them off overnight. The vineyard took 6 years to recover.
And when that vineyard is transformed, what do you notice?
What you begin to see is that the vineyard reaches a balance of insect species, for example, and that you begin to have fewer problems: your vineyard is stronger and more resilient and you need fewer inputs or products to do agriculture. And from the oenological point of view, a much healthier grape, with better concentration and with the skins of the grapes a little thicker, less fragile, and there, as you know, we find the color, the aromas and a good part of the tannins . It was a great lesson because we discovered that we had a vineyard that was not expressing the place, but was expressing what we were giving it.
International certifiers. We are certified by Ecocert. Whenever you want to know if a wine is certified organic or biodynamic, you should look for the seal of a certifier on the back label. We have almost 1,000 hectares certified as organic.
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It is hard to believe that a vineyard that produces close to a million cases of organic wine a year like Emiliana does so without any chemical product…
The people who work on it make it possible. And I like to say that we stopped doing organic garden agriculture, from the home garden, to do it on a large scale. And that is something very important, because it shows that it is a model that works and that it can be extended to other productions. I mean, it can.
Where and when did this trend start?
It was born in different parts of the world, from producers who began to realize that their vineyards had problems, and that adding a product at the end made you need another, because it was creating another problem for you. It was a vicious circle. The vineyards were getting sicker, productions were falling… All this was triggering this concern about how we were making the wine.
Is it an upward trend?
In the last eight years, the topic is growing a lot. France increased its area of organic vineyards by 30% in the last two years. And giants like Gallo in the US are starting to look to Italy for organic wine. Before it was a niche thing, from the producer who believed in it, today it is a trend.
It is very true that the new generations want to know what they are consuming and that it is produced in an environmentally friendly way. And the climate crisis is reinforcing this awareness. But there are also more advanced societies in environmental terms, like the Nordics in Europe. For many years, and it should be remembered that they have monopolies where the State is the one that buys the wine, they began to make demands in this matter. In addition, the pandemic has made many of us think, it has made us question the kind of life we lead.
Is there a reference country in organic wines?
I would say that things are happening in many countries. In Wines Of Chile, to go no further, a division called COW: Chilean Organic Winegrowers has just emerged.
A great reference in this matter is the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. What other examples would you highlight?
I like Foradori, which are more biodynamic; Benziger and Bonterra, too. And in Argentina there are very interesting organic and biodynamic wineries. More and more people are joining this way of doing agriculture.
Biodynamic agriculture has the same base as organic, that is, it does not incorporate chemical products. But biodynamics goes further, by, for example, postulating that one must be as self-sufficient as possible. Biodynamics understands the vineyard as a whole, which is why a lot of emphasis is placed on the conservation of natural spaces, on the vitality of the soil, on the microbiology of the soil. And then there are the famous biodynamic preparations, which we make with certain plants, such as chamomile, nettle, and with cow dung and horns, or with minerals such as quartz. The vegetable, the animal and the mineral are the three worlds that biodynamics speaks of and that must coexist in balance. The purpose of all this is to vitalize, fill the soil and the environment with energy.
Are they governed by the lunar cycle?
Using the lunar calendar is not a requirement to become certified as biodynamic, but it is a practice that we follow. We work with the lunar influence for pruning: if we have a very vigorous vineyard and we want to balance it, what we do is prune it when the moon is rising, when all the energy goes upwards, because at that time the plant ‘weeps’ more in the pruning. But if, on the contrary, we have a vineyard that is weaker, we can harvest it during a descending moon.
Yes, and I explain: for certain wines, one can use clarifying agents such as gelatins of animal origin or egg white. And a wine that has had a product of animal origin inside it cannot be vegan. Fortunately, today there are many options to comply with vegan precepts in wine.
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In all this adventure of making organic wines in Chile, what lessons have you learned?
I have learned to observe more, to walk the vineyard more, to let it guide me more. And, also, to release more. Because the fermentations are natural, they are spontaneous, I don’t have tools to make up the wine and, therefore, I have learned to let the wine be.
Are they more authentic wines?
Yes, definitely. More faithful to what the place gives you.
How do you see the future of organic wines?
I’m a bit of a dreamer and I like to imagine that the organic ones should be the norm and the chemical ones should be the weird ones. Probably not everyone will take that step. But I feel that we are in ‘must’ and that we should go towards a production that is much more respectful and responsible.
What did it mean to you that James Suckling chose your Gê wine as the best in Chile in his most recent report?
We were all happy, because finally this thing that started more than 24 years ago put us in the place where we wanted to be and confirmed that we were not wrong in this dream, in this idea of going organic-biodynamic thinking not only about the environment and in the people, but in the quality: that is to say that the wines were going to be better. It was confirmed that it can.
From August 11 to 14, in Corferias, Bogotá. The fair is once again face-to-face and more than 35,000 people are expected to attend. However, part of the talks and tastings will be transmitted via the internet so that anyone who wants to can see them no matter where they are.
the wine school
There will be more than 60 talks ranging from producing regions, the importance of terroir and sustainable viticulture, to how to learn to taste a wine, among many other topics. And a good part of them will be dictated by international guests.
The theme chosen for this year is organic, biodynamic and vegan wines, and at the fair there will be more than 60 references available for these types of wines.
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The fair store will have dozens of wines from multiple countries on offer and some 800 references in the already famous ‘pay two and get three’. But there will also be special prices in Carulla and Éxito stores throughout the country, as well as on the respective websites of these two supermarkets.
Every day of the fair, starting at 3 in the afternoon, there will be Carulla Cocina classes, in which you can learn to prepare dishes to pair with their wines.
The blind tastings
A jury made up of national and international expert sommeliers and oenologists will choose, as is tradition, the best wines at the fair in 14 categories.
Music will also be the protagonist at Expovinos 2022, which will feature the participation of the Bogotá Symphony Orchestra Foundation, who have designed an attractive artistic program in which there will be four flash mob interventions and the presentation of the renowned work Carmina Burana, among other activities.
Victor Manuel Vargas Silva
Sunday Edition Editor