Terra Noble: Chilean Carménère has reached its best expression after 25 years of evolution

The evolution of Carménère in Chile over the last twenty five years has resulted in the best expression of the grape, according to Terra Noble’s winemaker Marcelo García.

TerraNoble’s CA2 Costa Vineyard at Lolol, in the Colchagua Valley

The Carménère-focused premium producer has been at the forefront of the evolution of the French grape variety since it was first established in Chile 25 years ago – and winemaker Marcelo García says it has now found its best expression. It has evolved from being a wine marked by pyrazine notes that was tough for the market to understand to a  more elegant wine with fresher fruit and softer tannin, he says, having moved away in recent years from the bigger, riper, more opulent style or an over-oaked expression that overrode much of its its delicate

Speaking to the drinks business last month, García said the vines in the vineyard now have the right balance.

“They need time to balance production and expression, so we are able to do more wines with fresh ftuit and soft tannins, showing the typicity of the balance of fruit and acidity,” he says.

Evolution of the grape

Soon after Carménère was rediscovered in Chile, in 1994, the team at TerraNoble, which is owned by the Chilean von Appen family, made the switch from its original plan of making the best Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc in Maule, to planting its first vineyard of Carménère in Colchagua Valley. By 2006, it had expanded with vineyards in Maule, Casablanca and a second vineyard in Colchagua.

As Tomás Uribe Martínez, USA & Europe regional director at TerraNoble wines explains, “After ten years working with Carménère, the winery realised it had enough material to do great Carménère so they released the ‘CA project’.”

CA2 Costa

This project concentrates on the best way to express terroir with two dedicated sites – CA1, Los Lingues, close to the Andes, 370m above sea level and CA2, in Lolol, a small coastal valley near the Pacific Ocean, 70k away, at 100m above sea level. These sites have very different soils (granite versus clay), climatic influences (mountain versus ocean) and diurnal temperature differences that help bring out different expressions of the grape.

“The idea was to make the same grape under the same vinification techniques to show the different terroirs,” winemaker García adds.

Fast forward another decade, and Garcia says that the team believed that they’re now in a good position to do the best expression of Carménère, partly as the vines themselves have matured.

“The vines in the vineyard have got the right balance, they need time to balance production and express the potential of the grape, so we’re able to do more wine with fresh fruit and soft tannins, showing the typicity balance of fruit and acidity,” he explains, adding that the winemaker also needs to understand how to handle the grapes.

“The most important thing is the water infiltration on the soil, which is very important as the vigour of the grapes needs to be controlled.”

“It’s all about irrigation knowing your soil and how much to irrigate,” he said, pointing out that whereas the soil at Lolol needs irrigating only 2 or 3 times during the season due to its proximity to the ocean and the cool misty morning effect of the Humboldt current, while the Las Lingues site required drip irrigating every ten days.

Otherwise, vineyard management is relatively similar in both sites, although picking ten years earlier by the coast, as the grapes mature earlier.

As Uribe points out, the harvest for Carménère has got earlier and earlier as winemaker’s understanding of how to treat it has changed – and climate change is only to assist this.  Since 2015, the team has picked earlier, in April, but this year’s harvest saw the Carménère picked between 4-20th March, he said.

“In the past, Carménère used to be picked in the middle of May, but with the evolution of the vineyard and better balance of the grapes, you can pick it early and don’t get the pyrazines problem that you used to.”

Garcia notes that when he started winemaking, he thought the most important thing about was the winemaking, but he now believes the opposite “It all come from the vineyard.”

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