Chilean wine industry focus on genetic rescue of old vines and facing technology challenges

Chile may be the 4th biggest exporter of bottled wine, and is the biggest in the New World, but agricultural movement to different production areas and climates are a challenge. So the wine industry is working on a new strategy to best manage the new wine frontiers and the commercial gaps of the wineries.

This process will focus on taking care of territory identity and the new cropping areas in the south, coast and mountains. Since February 2016 and after several prior months of research and coordination, the "Strategic node Chile Vitivinícola 2.0" was launched, which is a private-public initiative supported by CORFO (Chilean Economic Development Agency), where a broad spectrum of actors can identify gaps and technological constraints and issues in the wine industry, for the purpose of generating guidelines for advancing the development of the future actions in wine business.

The Strategic node Chile Vitivinícola 2.0 is focused in four main challenges:

a) Climate Change (adaptation to effects and border agriculture),

b) Development of New Products (production and market development), 

c) Genetic Safeguarding (heritage, varieties and rootstocks), and

d) National promotion and marketing image.

The task has been focused on creating a methodology for generating concrete actions, based on diagnosis and a specific project through this initiative to reinforce the industry and determine the priorities that need to be addressed. Chile is currently the fourth biggest exporter of wines in the world, and the next step is to be the leading New World exporter. Today we face several high technology challenges due to the wine plantation frontier extension towards the South, the Coast and the mountains, and the long period of climate change that is having an effect on the Southern Hemisphere.

ChileVitivinícola 2.0 strategic node is a joint effort project heading up by Wines of Chile. The expected impact will have a great effect on conserving the patrimonial vineyards and genetic material in the central and south of Chile, and this is the target territory (covering from Maule to Aysen Region, over 1.600 km south of Santiago) where over 200 small and medium sized wineries are participating.

The Araucania Region is the latest area to plant Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (only in the last 10 years); however, several plants of varieties like Pais and Moscatel de Alejandría were found during the research project that need to be defined by an alliance with the agricultural national institute INIA by the Ministry of Agriculture and the international center of excellence UC Davis-Chile.

In BioBio and Maule, the most traditional of Chile's wine regions, large extensions of Pais, Moscatel de Alejandria, Corinto, Cinsault and Carignan varieties can be found. Currently, BioBio concentrates their production for a “base wine” for sparkling wine for several central valley wineries due to the high quality of grapes in the region. The local challenge is to become a worldwide sparkling producer with fine wine grape varieties, and based on patrimonial vines like Pais, Cinsault and Moscatel as well. As well as recovering distilled wine production, like Grapa in Italy.

Maximiliano Morales, agronomist in charge of leading the initiative says: “Due to the rescue of winegrapes projects in several areas of the South of Chile, a unique territory was found with 140 year old Malbec vines in San Rosendo in BioBio. This is creating a big expectation among the industry actors, because productive vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were also found, which will be studied, propagated and evaluated in the short term for their commercial potential.”

Patricia Fuentes Bórquez, CORFO´s Senior Agricultural Advisor, outlined encouraging conclusions about the wide participation of  wineries, academics, research and private sectors in the activities of ChileVitivinicola 2.0 Node. At the end of the workshop roadmapping, the industry needs to build a common approach and to identify the forward market moves and those critical variables to develop a new export wine industry in the next 5-10 years.

Chile Vitivinícola 2.0 has considered several activities like international seminars, regional workshops, and business meetings, coming together with more than 200 professionals and technicians like viticulturists, enologists, researchers, academics, wine industry associations, entrepreneurs and executives of different public agencies to define the Roadmap for the Chilean Wine Industry.  

Among the global and national excellence institutions, the strategic node Chile Vitivinícola 2.0 is working in joint efforts with UC Davis Chile - Life Sciences Innovation Center, Fraunhofer Chile, INIA (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias), and the Agricultural Innovation Agency by the Ministry of Agriculture.

In the latest seminar “Viticulture with no boundaries: Climate Change and Commercialization” in Santiago, important speakers including Francisco Meza, Ph.D. , Global Change Atmospheric Sciences, UC shared “Climate Risk, Viticulture Development towards 2050”; Álvaro Castro Ph.D., Genetic Coordinator and Molecular, Genomics of UC Davis Chile Life Sciences Innovation Center presented “Technology frontier for Viticulture”, Cristián Muñoz, Commercial Engineer presented a business presentation “Ultra Premium Wines: Branding and Strategic Markets”, and Claudio Cilveti from Vinos de Chile talked about the global situation of the wine industry.

The second Seminar “Rescue Vine and Extreme Terroir for Winemaking” was celebrated in Concepción, led by the Italian rescue vine specialist, Ettore Del Lupo, and winemaker of Clos de Fous, Francois Massoc, in joint conversation with Pedro Parra, Chilean Terroir Specialist, plus INIA investigators, Irina Diaz, and Patricio Hinrichsen.

In the next couple of weeks, the final report will be released with the conclusions and Road Map of the Chilean Wine Industry to move forward with the challenges it has.