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Chile needs a more ‘strict and specific’ appellation system

Emily Faulconer, chief winemaker at Carmen in Chile, part of Santa Rita Estates, has expressed her belief that the country needs to develop a more ‘strict and specific’ appellation system in order to protect quality and for each DO to reach its maximum potential.

Winemaker Emily Faulconer with a bottle of Florillon – a 13.5% Semillon aged under flor. – at Carmen’s Alto Jahuel vineyard in Alto Maipo.

Speaking to the drinks business at its Alto Jahuel vineyard in Maipo last month, Carmen winemaker Emily Faulconer said Chile had already proven that it is not a “monovarietal country”, but that its next step should be to move toward a more defined appellation system.

“We used to talk about Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, but I think what Chile really needs is experts in their own terroir, to be able to develop a more strict and specific appellation system, and the only way we are going to have that is to create the necessity to protect a place and we are certain of the maximum potential we can get from that area,” said Faulconer, who joined Carmen as its winemaker last year.

“We really want to talk about Alto Jahuel more than Alto Maipo, because Alto Maipo is already too broad. What we have in this property, we still haven’t finished discovering what we can do. The only way to push that with enough strength is through wine and specific products that show this.”

While Chile already has a DO system, it is purely geographical and does not restrict producers to grape varieties, yields or winemaking techniques, offering winemakers the freedom to experiment, but with no rules on quality.

Recently, Chile gained four new Denominations of Originthree of which were particularly significant given that they were not already part of a municipality, as defined by Chile’s political boundaries. Up until now, any DO had to be located within a political municipality in order to become a DO. Now a prospective DO must be at the least close to a locality of the same name and/or a vineyard of international acclaim.

The three new DOs made under the new precedent include Lo Abarca, in the San Antonio Valley, and Apalta and Los Lingues, which are both in the Colchagua Valley. A fourth area, Licantén, was also made a DO, in line with previous guidelines, as it was already recognised as a district of the Curicó Valley.

While a positive step in communicating smaller microclimates, Faulconer argues that further regulations to protect the quality of wines coming out of individual DOs would be beneficial to the industry, and help it better distinguish premium wines from within a specific DO, although this shouldn’t extend to tying a specific variety to a DO, she says.

“I think the variety is a little bit too strict. In Europe producers can feel a little bit trapped. I like the freedom that we have here, but to protect the places it’s important to have a little more rules, not too many. But to protect the quality and the places we need something more specific, related to the potential of wine growing. That why I get lost when it has to be a specific variety or climate and type of soil. I don’t think we are there for the varieties yet. We all know Alto Maipo is Cabernet, and Casablanca Sauvignon, but we have a big potential for Cabernet Franc and Malbec too.”

More important is that Chile starts talking about places rather than varieties, says Faulconer, who is working on a project at Carmen’s Alto Jahuel estate within Alto Maipo to produce single parcel wines from its Lo Arcaya vineyard, breaking that vineyard into Cabernet Sauvignon made from specific blocks to demonstrate the differences within a single vineyard.

“In Chile we have this big talent of going to where things are in fashion, it’s hot to talk about Pais and Cinsault, everybody rushes down south there and we leave behind everywhere that we still have so much to develop,” she says.

Santa Rita winemaker Sebastian Labbé


In line with its mission to raise the value of Chilean wine exports, last year Wines of Chile announced it would no longer promote wines sold for less than US$60 FOB a case. It means that at promotional and trade events worldwide, wines priced at less than £10 a bottle will not be visible. This, it believes, coupled with championing Chile’s sustainability credentials and growing oenotourism, will help it to achieve its aim of growing Chile’s value and volume exports by 6 and 3% each year.

“The main challenge we have is how too we increase the price,” said Santa Rita’s winemaker, Sebastian Labbé. “In quality wines we are challenging ourselves as producers, but how do we transfer that into prices and have people willing to pay £100 for Chilean Cab? The only way is to go into regionality and sense of place, through education and tastings and breaking the wines down into components.  We need to promote and invest more time in the market, repeat seminars at all levels, for trade, journalists, and to open it up to consumers. They are the ones who repeat the advice. The other thing is to compare ourselves with other wine regions in the world. In a tasting of Cabernet you need Coonawarra, Napa and the Médoc. That’s how you show the quality – not to compete, but to compare.”

While the development of its ‘classics’ is key, innovation among winemakers throughout Chile, including larger producers such as Santa Rita Estates, is also growing.

This year, Faulconer produced a small batch flor-aged Semillon called Florillon, under the Carmen label. On discovering a tank with a layer of flor on her first vintage with the team, she used it to inoculate a lone barrel of Semillon. In 2018, she made four barrels, 1,000 bottles, and will initially selling it at their cellar door.

Meanwhile Labbé will release an unfiltered white field blend called Floresta under the Santa Rita brand in September, made from Sauvignon Vert, Semillon, Moscatel, Toritel and Corinto, picked at the same time from a vineyard in Apalta, as if it was a red wine, with 40 days skin contact before pressing and fermentation.

“Bigger companies are getting involved and it’s important for Chile’s image,” says Labbé. “We are not doing these innovations for the sake of it. There is a need to push the limits. Big companies have a strong responsibility to show that Chile is more than good quality reliable wines.”

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