Last week’s column for the North Shore News was a quick recap of our visit to Emiliana Los Robles Organic Biodynamic Vineyards. It was one of the more impressive but—more to the point— profound experiences of my week in Chile.
I still find it quite remarkable that a company of this size took the giant leap into the then great organic unknown as long ago as the mid 1990s, when many people in the wine industry (especially in Chile at the time) didn’t give a second thought to the environment. What was particularly interesting about our tour and tasting here was the purity of fruit and uncluttered winemaking that is evident across the board—and for remarkable value at that.
I was struck by the amount of land left in its natural state in Chile (and not only at organic wineries). At Emiliana, vineyard and farm are integrated, the vineyard property embraces the namesake oak (Los Robles) forest, and all building materials used are almost entirely natural. Horses are employed in the vineyard for weeding and other chores, with tractors used only as necessary, a couple of times a year. Reliance on electrical power is kept to a minimum in the winery and other buildings with passive design throughout.
In more than a few vineyards I spotted several species of birds, and occasionally raptors, all obviously at home and healthy in properties that use minimal or no chemical intervention.
Emiliana’s organic – biodynamic program is comprehensive and implemented as per Rudolf Steiner‘s three basic principles of biodynamics that respect the land, follow the calendar cycle and use homeopathic preparations. There’s a true sense of peace and harmony in these vineyards (punctuated only by the occasional peacock call!) that you don’t necessarily see elsewhere—and the vines (and everything and being around them) look incredibly healthy.
More on Chile’s organic scene in the coming weeks …
Organic winemaking emerging in Chile
A whirlwind tour of Chile over just a few days has yielded plenty: from the continuing emergence of newer regions, including Bio Bio and San Antonio, to the maturing of a handful of biodynamic producers, such as Emiliana, under the leadership of Alvaro Espinoza.
In short, Emiliana has become a force to be reckoned with in the sometimes precarious arena of organic and biodynamic wine making.
Arguably the most passionate and most experienced of Chile’s biodynamic winemakers, Espinoza has been at the helm of the Chilean biodynamic movement, which he helped kickstart more than a decade ago when he joined the winery to implement its organic program.
Interestingly, the decision to embrace a comprehensive organic-biodynamic program had little to do with marketing per se, but was more about protecting workers by doing away with pesticides and other unhealthy aspects of conventional farming. Espinoza already had his own biodynamic vineyards and was in an ideal position to put his vision into action.
Today the much-travelled winemaker oversees more than 1,000 producing hectares of certified biodynamic vineyards in four valleys.
This week I was lucky enough to visit Emiliana’s Colchagua Los Robles vineyard (more accurately described as a full-fledged biodynamic farm), a bucolic backwater nestled in the Apalta foothills.
Walking between the rows of some of the healthiest looking vines I’ve seen in years, it’s interesting to note the differences here, where mechanized equipment such as tractors are used minimally, perhaps twice annually, and most of the weeding between rows is done by horse and plough.
Birdlife is in abundance, kept in check by local raptors. But when burritos (climbing bugs that attack the vines) become a problem, they are efficiently despatched by a platoon of hungry chickens that travel in style as required in thatched mobile coops from their home base.
Resident llamas protect the chickens from the local fox population and apparently do their job well.
The farm also includes an organic vegetable garden, where each worker has a 60square-metre bed in which to grow whatever produce they choose. Although the overall size of the property is more than 700 hectares, only about a quarter is actually under vine, bounded by oak forest that reaches up to the foothills, with wide swaths of land left in a natural state as wildlife corridors.
Tasting through the range I was struck by the affordability of these wines, which consistently deliver even aside from their organic added appeal of being certified organic.
Adobe Chardonnay 2012 (Casablanca)
The workhorse of the range, this lively drop sports tropical and citrus notes with bright fruit flavours and a solid mouthfeel before a lingering close. The 2012 seems decidedly fresher than the previous vintage. Good value at BCLS $14.99. 89 pts
Adobe 2011 Syrah (Rapel)
Black fruit, cherry and some spice on the nose followed by a plush, mouth-filling palate with easy tannins and fantastic fruit with great length and spice before a plush and persistent close. $14.99 89 pts
Emiliana Novas Pinot Noir 2011 (Casablanca)
Approachable, up-front new world style with just a touch of the old, with cherry and strawberry and raspberry notes underpinned by a touch of earthy savoury-ness and food-friendly acidity. $18-$20.00 90 pts.
Emiliana Organic Coyam 2010
The flagship blend (38 per cent Syrah, 27 per cent Carmenere, 21 per cent Merlot, 12 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 per cent Mourvedre, 1 per cent Petit Verdot) delivers red fruit, violets and spice up front, before luscious cassis and plummy notes, with complex spices and firm tannins wrapped in balanced acidity.
I was lucky enough to be able to taste the 2001 (92 pts) beside this wine, which deserves to be cellared. Put it away for even five years and it will reward you well. BCLS $29.99 91 pts.