July 31 2010 issue
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TERROIR Manzanar Estate, Aconcagua Valley, Chile Stuart George
The journey into Viña Errázuriz’s highest vineyards is not for the faint-hearted.
The bumpy track that winds through the vineyard, reaching a height of nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, crosses a seemingly endless number of rickety, old bridges that are barely wide enough to accommodate the 4x4s needed on these roads. Manzanar is only 36 miles from the winery established by Don Maximiano Errázuriz in 1870, just outside the small town of Panquehue in the heart of the Aconcagua Valley. But in winemaking terms, it is light years away from what was produced in those days at, reputedly, the largest single wine estate in the world.
Errázuriz, as much as any Chilean wine producer, has actively sought out cool-climate areas in an effort to create fresher wine styles. It manages, but does not own, La Escultura Estate in coastal Casablanca, which is a cooler and wetter region than the warmer, more temperate Aconcagua Valley. Planted in 1992, La Escultura provides grapes for Errázuriz’s Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, its Wild Ferment Chardonnay and Wild Ferment Pinot Noir, and its Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
Cool-climate viticulture "is part of the future of Chilean wine," says Errázuriz winemaker Rodrigo Zamorano. "It gives the possibility to enhance the qualities of some varieties and to give different characters to other varieties. Cool-climate areas were something that were lacking in Chilean viticulture, but it’s a combination between different types of areas that will increase the qualities of Chilean wine. What is true is that it’s the future of some varieties, especially white varieties."
The hunt for cooler spots in Aconcagua led Errázuriz away from the sunny Panquehue heartland and toward the coast, where the climate is strongly influenced by the Pacific’s slow, shallow, and cold Humboldt Current. Spotting the viticultural potential of the 2,500-acre Manzanar Estate near Concón, only 9 miles from the coast, Errázuriz planted there in 2005.
Manzanar’s heat summation is, depending on the exact spot, about 1,330 degree days; by contrast, Errázuriz’s Don Maximiano Vineyard near Panquehue comes in at 1,727. New Zealand’s Marlborough region is just slightly cooler than Manzanar, at about 1,200 degree days. Because Manzanar’s mean annual temperature is only 61ºF—significantly cooler than Don Maximiano’s 66ºF—it is not warm enough to ripen Carménère consistently. The vineyard is currently planted to 205 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, 84 of Pinot Noir, 71 of Chardonnay, 11 of Merlot, and 8 of Syrah.
Annual rainfall averages 13.9 inches at Manzanar, more than Don Maximiano’s 9.8 inches. But because the precipitation is almost entirely during the winter, the vineyards are still dry enough to make irrigation essential—a consideration for any new viticultural area in Chile. On the other hand, low rainfall means few, if any, fungal diseases and thus no need to spray preventive chemicals. That makes organic and biodynamic viticulture relatively easy here; in fact, Errázu-riz has worked with the University of Talca to develop sustainable production methods for all its Chilean properties.
Aconcagua’s prevailing soil type, especially in the central valley, is alluvial, although there is also some clay and clay-loam. At Manzanar, the soil mostly comprises 16-24 inches of loam over clay-and-rock strata. Yields are typically between 2 and 3.5 tons per acre, well within the average for what Zamorano calls "high-quality wine grapes."
Since the inaugural 2008 vintage, five wines from Manzanar have been released: a Sauvignon Blanc in 2010, 2009, and 2008, and a Chardonnay Wild Ferment in 2009 and 2010. The region’s wines are currently labeled "Denominación de Origen Aconcagua Costa" as part of an effort by Wines of Chile to recognize this and other coastal areas. For the time being, that designation remains unofficial; Manzanar wines are labeled formally as Denominación de Origen Valle de Aconcagua.
"Aconcagua is undergoing a revolutionary change," says Eduardo Chadwick, president of Errázuriz. "Over the past few years, new cool-climate coastal vineyards with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir have been planted, giving birth to the new Aconcagua Costa appellation that will rival Leyda, San Antonio, and Casablanca. Aconcagua Valley will become a very versatile appellation, offering cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir as well as full-bodied Bordeaux and Rhône blends."
Although the other Manzanar grape varieties have been vinified, "the decision on whether to release them as commercial wines will be taken further down the line," explains Rupert Lovie, the company’s U.K. brand manager. "There are no plans at the moment to release the Pinot Noir or Syrah as individual wines, due to the tiny volumes available and the fact that they are very useful cooler-climate blending components for other wines." Zamarano believes other grapes can flourish here as well: "There is a potential for varieties such as Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Grenache, Viognier, and maybe experiments with Riesling or Pinot Gris." But he hastens to point out, "Warmer areas are as good as cool areas for some varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. The important thing is to plant the correct varieties in the different areas."
Even as Chile’s wine regions gradually coalesce into three main zones—coastal, valley, and Andean—Chadwick’s plans for Errázuriz are simple: "To keep being recognized as the quality benchmark from Chile." Errázuriz has scaled the heights at Manzanar—but it might go even higher yet.