Chile’s future is Cabernet Franc

6th November, 2012 by Patrick Schmitt

Chile should focus on Cabernet Franc for its future fine wines according to Santa Rita winemaker Carlos Gatica, following plantings in a newly-created region.

Gatica described the results of Cabernet Franc-based wine from five-year old vines in Pumanque, a new coastal DO within the Colchagua Valley, as “elegant and interesting”.

Stating his confidence in the grape from the region, he said, “Cabernet Sauvignon’s reputation is already established – I believe the future for Chile is Cabernet Franc.”

Encouraging his conviction in the variety, he explained that new cooler vineyard areas within Chile were favouring the grape.

“Cabernet Franc needs milder conditions and poor soils and Chile gives the chance to make a very concentrated and aromatic wine.”

Santa Rita, which is one of only two producers in Pumanque (and the largest by a significant margin), has, in Gatica’s words, “taken ownership of the area.”

Santa Rita 120’s first release of its Pumanque Cabernet Franc comes from the 2011 vintage

The decision to plant Cabernet Franc in the region – which gained DO status on 29 September this year – is attributed to Santa Rita’s viticultural consultant and renowned Australian winemaker Brian Croser, who recently praised Chile’s results with Cabernet Sauvignon.

“When we purchased the land in Pumanque we did a study with consultant Brian Croser and he said the region was good for most varieties but he advised us to try Cabernet Franc,” recalled Gatica.

Although Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have also been planted by Santa Rita in Pumanque, Gatica added, “Cabernet Franc is by far the best of all the vines there of the same age.”

Gatica also expressed his belief in the quality potential of Merlot from Chile, describing it as “the next step” after Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Due to the young nature of the Pumanque vines, the new Cabernet Franc based wine is being brought to market under Santa Rita’s 120 brand, and has gained a listing in the UK at Majestic, where it will sell for £7.49.

The label, named after 120 soldiers who took refuge in Santa Rita’s cellars during Chile’s war for independence, is Santa Rita’s most successful range in volume and value.

Despite the absence of phylloxera in Chile, Gatica said that the new vineyards at Pumanque are planted with grafted rootstocks specifically cultivated within the Santa Rita nurseries as part of their sustainability programme.

These have been developed to adapt to prolonged periods of dry weather and water shortages, as well as their resistance to salinity.

Limiting the development of Pumanque, along with other newly-created regions in Chile, is access to water, according to Gatica.

Within the new DO, he said that Santa Rita had created its own water supply by digging a well in an old riverbed.

“There is a serious lack of water around the area, but this is a problem for viticulture in the whole of Chile,” he explained.

Continuing he said, “As an industry, water management is something we are very worried about.

“Using better adapted rootstocks can be helpful in reducing water use,” he commented, before stating more generally, “Our [climatic] cycles are the opposite to Australia in terms of El Niño/La Niña, so we are now in our second to third year with a lack of rain, and we are expecting a few more years of drought as the experts say there are 7-10 year cycles.”

Explaining further he said, “Australia had 7-8 years of almost no water and now big amounts, while we are struggling – last year we had 60% of our 20-year rainfall average, and this year 70%, so we’ve had a 40% and 30% shortage.”

Carlos Gatica, winemaker for Santa Rita Estate’s 120 range

Speaking about viticultural developments and evolving wine styles at Santa Rita he said, “We have dropped the alcohol on the 120 range using earlier picking and canopy management.”

“We keep the canopy very open to get ripeness sooner, and can now harvest 10 days earlier.

“Before, five years ago, the vineyards looked all perfect, clipped like hedges, and while it looked beautiful, now we ask the viticulturist to manage the vines so they are more open, but take out some leaves.”

Finally, he stressed that the best aspect for planting vines in Chile was at an angle of 30 degrees facing southwest to avoid problems of shading and sunburn.

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