One of the world’s most seductive varieties, Pinot Noir is a special wine. And Chilean Pinot Noir is proving to be very special indeed. With growing recognition worldwide for Chile’s high quality production of this tricky red variety, the country’s cold climate regions are exciting winemakers and wine drinkers alike.
A noble variety originally from Burgundy in France, Pinot Noir is a unique wine that has both complexity and an appealing juicy and fruity nature making it one of the most versatile wines for food pairings, and also one of the most popular. Pinot Noirs fetch some of the highest prices on the market and also some of the most ardent fans (known within the sect as pinotphiles).
The infatuation for Pinot is perhaps because of its challenging character – it is one of the hardest varieties to cultivate, but also one of the most rewarding. “It needs to be treated so differently in vineyard and winery to other varieties,” says Cono Sur winemaker Matias Ríos. “It’s a pain in the ass, but a gorgeous challenge!”
The reason Pinot Noir is such a ‘pain in the ass’ is because of its delicate skin: it easily gets burnt by too much sun, or by frost when there’s too little sun, and if it’s wet you get problems with fungi… Fortunately for Chilean winemakers though, the country has a handful of regions that boast many of the ideal conditions for Pinot. “The temperature in Summer at night is around 8 degrees and it helps the Pinot Noir save its freshness and fruit,” says Cedric Nicolle who makes Pinot Noir in the renowned, cool-climate Casablanca region for Loma Larga. “The great thing here is that there’s no rain. It’s very dry and so we don’t get much frost either. It’s a more controlled and stable climate.”
Although the conditions may be perfect, in the winery Pinot Noir is equally as demanding. As probably the largest Pinot Noir producer in the world, winemakers at Cono Sur have learned first hand how to manage the variety since they started making it, and rather by coincidence, in 1996. “We decided to make Pinot Noir because it was in this vineyard [vines from 1968],” explains Matias simply. At first, like most wineries, they made their Pinot Noir the same way as any other red variety. “The skin is very delicate and if you start to work in the classic vinification process you destroy the skin a lot and you have a dirty wine with a lot of sediment and lose elegance, colour and potential for your expression.” In 1999 Cono Sur went to the home of Pinot, Burgundy, and brought back a specialist and now they have completely changed their vinification method. Rather than using closed tanks for fermentation, they have two rooms with open topped tanks that are more gentle and create a far superior Pinot Noir. So enamored with the variety is Cono Sur, that their top-level wine, Ocio, is a Pinot Noir. “It’s very difficult to get the perfect Pinot Noir,” explains Matias, “but when you do, it is the most satisfaction you can get.”
Although awards are being lavished on Chilean Pinot Noir – most recently by Decanter and IWC – many believe the variety still has a lot of untapped potential in Chile. “Each year we notice an improvement in Chilean Pinot Noir,” says Cedric, a French winemaker who has made wine in other recognised Pinot lands like France, Oregon and New Zealand. “Ten years into the future we will be discovering the very best terroir for Chilean Pinot Noir. It has a great potential.”
Winemakers are exploring Pinot territory not only in Casablanca, San Antonio and Leyda, but also in Bio Bio, Colchagua, Limari and Malleco among other valleys. “I have a strong feeling Pinot Noir could be fantastic for Chile in the future…” says Michael Cox, WOC European Director. “That’s a real one to watch.” Perhaps the most exciting part about Chile’s Pinot exploration is that this is just the tip of a delicious iceberg.
Photographs from Cono Sur