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Chile’s terroir needs more recognition says Chief Winemaker at Errazuriz

Decanter's content director John Stimpfig talks to Francisco Baettig, Chief Winemaker and Technical Director at Errazuriz about his frustrations with a lack of definition and protection for Chile's top terroirs.

Right now there is no AC or quality system in Chile to protect and promote these very precious, recognised vineyard sites. And that needs to change.

Chile needs more precise appellations to develop markets, encourage its fine wine sector and protect its top terroirs, says Francisco Baettig, Chief Winemaker and Technical Director at Errazuriz.

‘It is becoming increasingly imperative that we define and develop a more rigorous and precise Appellation Contrôlée system in Chile for consumers and producers. At the moment, there is no official or legal framework for our most promising sub-areas or specific terroir sites like Apalta, Chilhué and others. Instead, the smallest division is the Comuna which is in many cases too large and unspecific.’

The last time Chile updated its appellation wine laws was in 2011 when it took two years of bureaucratic negotiations to agree decree 464. As a result, producers became entitled to use the terms Costa (coast) Entre Cordilleras (central) and Andes (Eastern) on their labels.

Previously, Chile’s wine regions were solely based only on political boundaries which divided the country from north to south. So the move was a step in the right direction, but didn’t go far enough, says Baettig. ‘The divisions are still too broad and no one sees any interest in using the Entre Cordilleras term’.

Baettig would also like to see other legal terms tightened up. ‘At the moment, we lose out through low thresholds of quality and an almost complete lack of specific designations.

For instance, to label a wine as a Reserva in Chile, the only hurdle it has to clear is that it must be more than 12%. And in Chile, there is currently no official designation or definition of a single vineyard.’

‘We need to get some better laws and more rigorous definitions in place – and as quickly as possible.’

That won’t be easy as any such initiative won’t be government led, which is how it is done in the Old World. In Chile everything comes from the wineries themselves via Wines of Chile. And this makes the process difficult as there are many opposing voices and interests.

Nevertheless, some new proposals have emerged from a recent symposium organized by the Cofradía del Vino Chilenoin which took place in Chile in August.

One is the idea of a higher D.O. category with an additional term like ‘Superior’ or ‘Especial’ to enable more specific designations of quality.

‘It is going to be difficult to agree on the details, of course. We all know that,’ acknowledges Baettig. ‘But this change will happen because it has to.

There are some people saying that we don’t need these designations and that strong brands are all that is required. Of course, we need strong brands but there’s a balance to be struck.’

In the last decade Baettig has pioneered some enormously impressive cutting edge ‘Burgundian-influenced’ Pinots and Chardonnays under Errazuriz’s Las Pizzarras label which are among the most expensive of their kind in Chile.

But under the current rules, all he can call them is Aconcagua Costa. ‘I would like a more specific designation. But we can’t use the site names as they aren’t recognized in the Appellation system. It’s very frustrating because these are very vineyard defined wines which are akin to Grand and Premier Cru status.

Right now there is no AC or quality system in Chile to protect and promote these very precious, recognised vineyard sites. And that needs to change.’

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