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Chile ‘needs to push its green credentials’ to stand out, winemakers agree

Chile is not doing enough to push its green credentials and capitalise on its vast natural potential according to several of the country’s winemakers speaking to db in a series of exclusive interviews.

A wildlife correidor at Emliana

Noelia Orts, the winemaker for Chile’s organic specialist Emiliana, who is in charge of its well-known wines, Coyam and Gê, is unequivocal when asked if Chile is doing enough in terms of green initiatives.

“No, we have a perfect country to grow in that path – we have a lot of sun here, areas with a lot of wind, we could do much more with renewable energy” she says. “Chile should be the green country, it should be selling the wines as a country that works together with nature, we have a lot of natural richness,”

But although some people are doing so, there needs to be “a change of mentality”, she adds in order for Chile to really stand out.

She higlights in particular the support that is available from Wines of Chile and its Sustainability Code, and the government’s CORFO agency, a development agency that works to improve the competitiveness and the productive diversification of the country by encouraging investment, innovation and entrepreneurship with initiatives by co-finances sustainable projects that could have wider impact for the country.

Emliana’s winemaker, Noelia Orts

Emiliana is currently working with the government on two CORFO-funded projects – a research project into native yeasts and wild fermentation surrounding the vineayards that will further understanding of the way biodiversity impacts on the wines and a circular economy research project that is looking to improve the quality of compost by incorporating organic agro-industrial wastes.

“We add leftovers from a tomato sauce company, the pomace from an organic apple juice company, and we’re trying with the leftovers from a olive oil company to see if we can a richer compost adding these other elements,” Orts explains. “I really like the circular economy as we are taking the leftovers from the others and making them into something.”

However, although the government is pushing green projects she says a lot people don’t apply “as it’s a lot of paperwork” and also because they “don’t want to do science”.

“They only do it if they see an economic results, if they are going to save money, rather than doing it for the pleasure or for generating knowledge,” she says. “I don’t want to sound too dramatic – people are doing things and the Wines of Chile Sustainable Code is there – but we should do more, we should be a green wine country.”

Organic production

The situation, she says, is similar with organic agriculture – even though “you can count on your hand the pests [in Chile]”, meaning it is “not that difficult” to go organic, many companies are only motivated to do so because markets are asking for organic products.

“Wines of Chile has the sustainability code which motivates wineries to do some environmental practise to get different certificates, but they [ie Chile’s wineries] are not enough are going full on,” she notes.

Cristian Urzua T, export director Europe & Africa at Viu Manent, which has been working on sustainability projects for the last four years, agrees.

“I don’t feel the sustainability code for Wines of Chile is being used as much as it could be as a country,” he says.

Solar panels have been installed at Viu Manent

He admits that while it is a big commitment, “you have to have it on your farm, your cellar and with all the community you work with”, it needs to be communicated better to the consumer.

“Chile as a country is blessed by the conditions of the climate and we should be using more of this, I feel we’re not doing enough. We need to push this more in terms of marketing as a country.”

Some of the measures Viu Manent has introduced include reducing use of herbicides with the intention of completely stopping within five years, boosting its use of organic matter and installing solar energy, as it moves towards organic production and 100% renewable energy, as well as vegan production. This, Urzua said adds value, and helps differentiate the brand from other Chilean wines on shelf.

“About 95% of the all products in the vineyards are organic, which is very important, and we have four different panels solar in different areas of the estate – in the winery, two in the vineyards, and a new one in the tourist area. All the irrigation pumps and everything in the cellar and farms that we need to irrigate the plants are all solar powered,” he explains. “The important idea is to be 100% renewable energy so we are producing all the energy we consume.”

As Benoite Fitte, winemaker and technical director of Survalles points out, this is become increasingly important.

“All the wines companies have to work on sustainability now, it’s not something special, its’s a necessity,” he told db. “We’ll probably have to be organic in the next ten to 20 years – people are taking more care of themselves in general so the organic production could be increasingly important.

However Urzua recognises that certification is expensive, and there is a limited amount of things you want to communicate to people on the bottle, be that organic production, sustainability or vegan production, which appeals to the European and US market, but is less of a concern in Asia or South America, where “they are more into medals”.

“You can’t communicate too many or people get confused, so we’re focussing on sustainability and clean production,” he explains. “All of our wines are vegan, we don’t use any animal products, but we vegan certified our Gran Reserva and Secreta ranges to start with as sometimes people can misunderstand and think it means change of quality.”

As Viu Manent’s chief winemaker Patricio Celedón points out, “The vegan movement has been growing around the world and it adds extra interest in the wines if you keep the quality. It will become of more interest in a few years.”

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