Chile steps up clonal focus29th October, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
Clonal selection will drive the next major evolutionary phase for Chilean wines, according to Santa Rita Estates’ head of viticulture Sebastian Warnier.
The producer currently houses a range of clones for the 25 different grape varieties in its nursery, including nine for Merlot and seven for Cabernet Sauvignon.
After four years of cleaning and propagating plant material in its Buin nursery, which has absorbed US$400,000 investment since being set up eight years ago, as well as a 40-hectare “mother block” in Rapel, Santa Rita is able to use these vines for new projects, such as its 1,200ha estate in Pumanque.
“The next step is clone and terroir – that is the future,” said Warnier, who plans to spend the “next five or six years” planting the same clones in different places to compare their performances.
To support this focus, his team has carried out extensive soil analysis across the group’s new vineyard sites. “We spent a year making 150 holes around the farm to classify soils and decide what to plant,” recalled Warnier of the Pumanque project alone. So far Santa Rita has planted 600 hectares here between 2006 and 2010 with plans to add a further 200ha.
However, with many producers in Chile still absorbed with finding the right sight for individual grape varieties, never mind specific clones, Warnier highlighted the long-term nature of these projects. “The problem is that is takes seven or eight years until a plant is balanced in the vineyard,” he noted.
Meanwhile Elena Carretero, director of corporate affairs & sustainability at Santa Rita Estates, pointed to the important link between the nursery’s work and Chile’s wider sustainability effort. “If the vine is free from viruses then you need to use fewer chemicals and water and the life of the plant improves,” she remarked.