Chile to form organic wine growers’ associationBy Patrick Schmitt
A group of Chilean wineries are forming an association to promote organic wine as the demand for organic produce shows a significant post-pandemic upsurge.
News of the impending organisation came during an interview with Jaime Valderrama, who is the managing director of Viña Miguel Torres Chile.
Speaking exclusively to the drinks business last week, he said that a group of six wineries were banding together to promote organic wine from Chile, and that the new association would also have the support of Wines of Chile, which unites much of the country’s wine industry primarily for marketing purposes.
Among the founder members of the organic association will be Viña Emiliana, Odfell, and Koyle, according to Valderrama, as well as Viña Miguel Torres Chile.
Taking inspiration from Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ), which is a dedicated to supporting organic winegrowing, he said that the group of Chilean wineries were talking to the founders of the New Zealand organisation for advice on how to run such a grouping.
Valderrama also told db that since the relaxation of Covid-related trading restrictions worldwide, business was booming, particularly for organic wines.
“Last year was very bad for us because we had a strong position in restaurants,” he said, recalling the challenge of selling wine when on-premise operators were shuttered across much of the world in a bid to stem the rate of Covid transmissions.
Continuing, he said, “Then this year is very good, especially for organic wines, and our Las Mulas range of organic wines is doing very well; natural and organic wine is facing more demand, and that’s where the growth is across the US, Europe, UK and Korea as well.”
He added, “It seems that the consumer is more conscious about organics and the environment, and that’s why we are creating an organic grower’s association in Chile: the future for us is organic and natural wines.”
Currently, 98% of grape production across the 314 hectares owned by Torres in Chile is grown organically, with certification.
The 2% of the group’s vineyard area that isn’t certified hails from the far south of Chile in the Osorno region, where Valderrama said it was harder to be fully organic due to the strong botrytis pressure as a result of the high rainfall in this part of the country, with 1500mm falling annually.
With Torres Chile’s vineyards only supplying 40% of its needs, the producer’s winemaker Eduardo Jordan said that he was meeting with the grape suppliers to encourage them to convert to organic practices by offering long term contracts with the guarantee of higher prices for bunches produced according to the farming philosophy.
The increase being offered he said was more than double what the growers are currently receiving, so it would more than offset the highest costs of organic viticulture, which Jordan said was 20-25% more expensive.
However, the most powerful incentive to switch was the promise of a market for their grapes.
Speaking about the contracts, he said, “What’s most important for growers is stability.”
Finally, mentioning the impact of climate change in Chile to date, Jordan spoke of a frightening decline in annual levels of precipitation around the centre and north of the country.
Taking the Torres base in Curicó by way of example, he said that average rainfall in this “centre-south” area of Chile had dropped by 76%.
Considering totals since 1961, he recorded that the average rainfall since that year had been 750mm, but in 2019 to 2020, Curico had received just 137mm, with an average of 400mm in recent years.
Along with a marked reduction in rainfall, he said the region was experiencing more temperature extremes, with a rise in the number and severity of heatwaves, and frost events.
It is an overall warming of conditions in Chile that he said had allowed Torres Chile to work with vineyards in the far south of the country.
“Climate change has brought new opportunities, such as Osorno,” he said.
“Before 2010 that area was considered only useful for forests and cows, but now you can plant vineyards,” he added.
Overall, he said that the search for cooler conditions, and areas with enough rainfall to grow grapes without irrigation, was pushing Torres Chile to invest in land in the south of Chile, including Itata and Bío Bío.