Sustainable Chile by Janet Dorozynski

Chile: The Natural Choice

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Many have long known that Chile is a sliver of viticultural paradise, with near perfect growing conditions and free from many of the pests and diseases which plague other regions of the world. So to go greener, from an environmental perspective, has been a relatively easy and natural choice. But as wine lovers in Ontario discovered earlier this month, Chile’s sustainability drive has gone much farther  to encompass the social and economic dimensions of wine production as well.

The 9th annual Chilean Wine Tasting at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto showcased 30 wineries and more than 150 wines. There were also seminars for the trade and media, which I was invited to moderate. One focused on the industry’s new sustainability initiative, while we tasted wines from wineries that have been certified under Chile’s Sustainability Code.

Sustainable ChileThe discussion was led by James Robinson, a Chilean and Masters Candidate in Sustainability Management at Columbia University. He was joined by winery principals from Emiliana, Cono Sur, Via Wines, Pérez Cruz, San Pedro, De Martino, Santa Ema, Los Maquis and Ventisquero who talked about various initiatives undertaken by their wineries –  reduced water usage, flash heat treatment to kill vineyard pests, and gardens and orchards for winery workers.

Sustainability by definition is a broader concept than organic or biodynamic viticulture.  According to the winemakers who were in Toronto, sustainability is a concept, a philosophy, a way of farming and a way of doing business that makes sense.

Initiatives were begun in Chile by wineries wanting to adopt a sustainable approach, and needing a system to measure or verify sustainable attributes.  Caliterra and Errazuriz, along with representatives from the University of Talca in Chile, developed the first protocol for sustainability, which was based on the programs used by regions such as South Africa, New Zealand and California, along with the best practices used by Chilean producers.

The initiative is now under the leadership of the technical arm of Wines of Chile, which is the trade organization representing 90 of the country’s producers. Sustainability is part of the association’s 2020 Strategic Plan, with the goal to become the world leader of sustainably produced wines by 2020. While the program and code are still in the early stages, there have been 20 wineries certified with an additional 23 set to do so.

How Chile’s Code Works

Chile’s Sustainability Code is divided into three “chapters”, with each chapter covering a different aspect of sustainable practices.

The “green” chapter focuses on issues related to the vineyard, i.e. the management of natural resources and agro-chemical use and pest and disease control, which applies to new plantings and established vineyards alike. While sustainability doesn’t necessarily guarantee organic or biodynamic winemaking practices, or prohibit pesticide or herbicide use, which are monitored by the various organic and biodynamic certification bodies, it does examine and measure a winery’s waste management, composting and recycling programs and energy usage, which the latter do not.

Sustainable Chile

Chile’s Sustainability Code

The “red” chapter looks at what happens in the winery:  how water and energy is utilized along with measures to reduce waste and prevent pollution during the winemaking process. As  water and energy use is a key  environmental element in sustainable production, the Wines of Chile program contains a network of meteorological  stations in each of the wine growing areas, in order to better  understand and monitor weather and climate, so as to better manage use of water, spraying regimes and vineyard practices.

The “orange” chapter takes into consideration the social aspects of production and the community at large, by looking at purchasing criteria, job conditions and the work environment, ethics and how the winery interacts with the community and consumers.

The entire system or sustainability code is assessed against a series of rigorous standards and a score-card system, which is verified by a third party, external certification body. According to James Robinson, verification and measurement is crucial since “you cannot manage what you don’t measure”.

It is the winery, rather than the wine, which is certified for sustainability. Wineries meeting the code are eligible to use the logo “Certified Sustainable Wine of Chile”.

Sustainability in the Glass?

Trade Tasting - SustainabilityLofty goals indeed and some at the seminars were left wondering how this process will affect the quality or taste of Chilean wine. I myself haven’t noticed much difference in the taste of sustainable wines and am not sure we will in the short term, since the program is designed to make the wine making process and wineries themselves more sustainable, rather than measuring or managing issues of taste.

However, in the long run, sustainable practices will benefit the wineries (and all Earth residents) as custodians of the land, workers in terms of improved working conditions, pay and old-age security and, ultimately consumers, who can be sure that Chilean wines are being made with a greater respect for the land and workers with minimal environmental and social impacts.

We will start to see more sustainable Chilean wines entering the Canadian market over the months ahead so keep an eye out for the logo and neck tags on bottles of sustainably produced wines. For more information on Chile’s Sustainability Code and certified wineries visit the websites: and

A handful of sustainable Chilean Wines worth trying:

Oveja Negra 2011 Single Vineyard Carmenere, Maule Valley ($15.95)

Opaque, deeply coloured wine, with intense fresh and dried dark berries and cream on the nose and palate, with the leafy spiciness that is often found in Carmenere.  Medium to full bodied with smooth but present tannins. Quite soft with good structure and balance and a dry, long finish. A dense and textured wine that is good value for the price.  Drink now. Part of the October 27 Vintages Release.  Tasted October 2012.

Ventisquero Vertice 2007, Apalta, Colchagua Valley ($29.95)

Vertice is a blend of 51% Carmenere and 49% Syrah with fruit from selected vineyards in Apalta in the Colchagua valley. The wine is the project of Chilean winemaker Felipe Tosso and Australian John Duval and is a heady mix of red and blue berries, black pepper spice, cedar and vanilla. Firm, silky tannins with a firm structure and balanced acidity, the finish is long and harmonious. The wine saw 20 months in French oak (33% new wood) and a further 10 months in bottle before release.  A good match for grilled steak. Can be cellared for 5 to 7 years.  Tasted October 2012.

Maquis Lien 2008, Colchagua Valley ($29.95)

Los Maquis is one of twenty Chilean wineries certified under the new Sustainability Code, which establishes guidelines to measure environmental and social responsibility. The 2008 Lien wine was featured at the recent Wines of Chile annual tasting and seminar in Toronto and is a blend of Carmenere, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  It’s a bold, medium to full bodied red that is ripe and balanced with soft tannins and plush fruit intensity on the medium long finish. Drinking well now.  Tasted October 2012. (Note: The 2006 Vintage is being released Oct 13)

Errazuriz Max Reserva Syrah 2010, Aconcagua Valley ($18.95)

An expressive nose of dark fruit and berries, alongside a melange of cooking spices and earth tones.  On the palate, the wine is definitely more syrah than shiraz in flavour, though the structure is reminiscent of the latter. Dense and full bodied with generous soft tannins and a long finish. Ideal with braised or roasted beef.  Drink now and over the next 3 to 5 years. Tasted October 2012.

Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley ($19.95)

This is a bold wine to be sure, with characteristic cassis and dark berries along with spicy, savoury notes on the nose and palate.  Ripe yet elegant, the wine is full bodied with firm, ripe tannins and sweet vanilla oak.  A long intense finish.  Drink now with BBQ ribs.  Tasted October 2012.