How Covid-19 has brought some benefits to one fine wine

If one were asked to find a positive aspect to the spread of Covid-19, then there’s a fine wine estate in Chile that can name it.

Viña Almaviva in Maipo’s Puente Alto

During a discussion earlier this month with Michel Friou, the winemaker at Chilean icon Viña Almaviva, it became apparent that the arrival of the coronavirus in Latin America may have put a huge strain on the estate’s operations, but it also forced the managers to make some changes for the better.

Such alterations concerned the timing and speed of harvesting for this Cabernet-dominant, top-end red blend, and this, Friou now believes, has had positive implications for Almaviva’s wine style, and will alter how he approaches future vintages.

Speaking about this year’s harvest at the property, which is located in Maipo’s prized Puente Alto region – an area found in the foothills of the Andes – he said that the spread of Covid-19 had caused him to reassess when to pick, and, in particular, how to shorten harvest times.

“When we started harvesting, it was according to what we wanted for the year, but we had a couple of batches where we would have waited longer, but we picked them earlier and even faster than normal due to the pressure of Covid, and that helped us to get the last batches in at the right time,” he said.

Continuing, he admitted, “Sometimes we are a bit late when it comes to picking the last batches due to logistics, but this [Covid-19] forced us to organise things differently, and finally I am very happy with the result.”

So what is the outcome stylistically? “This year will be great,” he began, adding that with an early and rapid harvest he thought there would be “more tension and freshness” at the expense of richness in the wine from 2020. However, he said, “We do have more freshness, but we also have more structure, more fat, and more body; it’s a great combination.”

Furthermore, the volumes are good from this harvest, meaning “we have normal quantities, and the quality too,” he recorded.

Notably, the vintage this year was unusually early due to an early flowering and fruit set and then hot, dry conditions throughout the growing season, which together, meant that picking was due to begin as much as three weeks sooner than normal for natural reasons.

Such conditions, especially the very low levels of rainfall (around 65mm compared to 320mm on average), were in fact a cause of concern for Friou for the 2019-20 growing season at Almaviva, but he said that with hindsight, not only did it produce a great vintage, but also proved a boon for picking ahead of the intensification of Covid-19 in Chile.

“The challenging climate was probably our best partner as it helped us to have a very early vintage,” he said.

He continued, “When the coronavirus arrived in Chile in early March we knew that it would put a pressure on us, but we were already well underway with the ripening process because of the drought, and we started harvesting on 13 March, when normally we would begin in the last week of March.”

In terms of long-term lessons from this extraordinary vintage, Friou told db that it has shown him that the harvest at Almaviva need not be so drawn out.

What I’ve learnt is that we need to be more compact in harvesting; normally it’s a long period of 9-10 weeks, but we’ve seen that we can shorten this by two weeks, and get a better result,” he said.

As previously reported by db, the 2020 vintage is an important harvest for Almaviva because it is the 25th harvest at the property.

Almaviva was founded in 1997 by Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton-Rothschild and Concha y Toro, and the first vintage was 1996. Their aim was to create the first Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé equivalent in Chile using grapes from the best Puente Alto vineyards.

Earlier this month, Almaviva released its 2018 vintage through La Place de Bordeaux at €96 per bottle ex-negociant, with Friou describing the expression as “exceptional”.

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