The wine regions of Chile are to be re-organised on an East-West axis rather than the North-South system which has been in existence for more than a century.
This was revealed by Mario Pablo Silva, managing director of Casa Silva Wines. in an exclusive interview with www.hospitalityenews.com.
‘I am president of an umbrella body which represents Wines of Chile as well as smaller producers and we have agreed with the Government to introduce new regional designations’, he said. ‘The Chilean terroir is influenced by the Pacific ocean and the Andes and so the climate changes as you move from East to West. It is more informative therefore to describe regions as being coastal, central or mountainous rather than North or South.’
Under the new system Chile’s famous wine-growing valleys , such as Limari, Aconcagua, Casablanca, Maipo, Colchagua and Cuirico will retain their names, but the regions will also have a further designation such as Aconcagua Coastal, Casablanca Central or Colchagua Andes.
Mario has been a leader of Chilean wine development since he became head of the family business in 1997. His first project was to transform Casa Silva from being a bulk wine producer to a house which specialised in premium wines. He conducted a detailed study of terroirs in the Colchagua Valley and planted new vineyards at Los Lingues, Lolo and more recently in the coastal area of Paredones.
He strongly believes that the future of the family business and the Chilean wine industry les in the production of high quality wines based on local terroir. ‘Chile produces good wines, but most sell at entry-level prices. We need to develop out of this market by offering more high quality wines of character which will command premium prices. It will be a long journey- but one which we must travel’, he says.
He encounters difficulties such as the lack of precision in describing wines from Chile. ‘We sell a Reserva for around $12-$15, but it can be on a shelf alongside another Chilean Reserva priced at $4,’
Mario leads by example at Casa Silva where 75% of production commands a retail price of US$10 and higher. It’s two main brands, the eponymous Casa Silva (for the on trade) and Donna Domingo (for the off trade) are sold in more than 50 countries, usually through restaurants and specialist wine shops.
Mario has also positioned Casa Silva as a specialist producer of Carmenere which grows particularly well in Los Lingues in the foothills of the Andes.
‘Carmenere is the national grape of Chile and gives us an exclusivity which we can promote around the world’, he says. ‘We have sought out the ideal terroirs for Carmenere. Our research has revealed genetic variables in the vines and we are now working on selecting clones which will further enhance the quality of the grapes.’ At present no official clones of Carmenere have been developed and we are working with the University of Talca and a German Institute to identify clones which will produce Carmenere with specific characteristics. The first of these clones will be called Casa Silva.’
Mario Pablo Silva is also to the fore in promoting the Colchagua Valley as a distinctive wine region with outstanding diversity. He was a founder of Vinas de Colchagua in 1999 and served as its president for eight of the next ten years, during which the organisation worked at raising quality standards, producing premium wines and promoting wine tourism.
‘More and more people want to visit Chilean wine estates and wine tourism is growing rapidly’, he says. Casa Silva has built a small hotel on its winery at Angostura with a restaurant overlooking the wine cellar. The complex also includes a rodeo stadium, a polo ground and, most recently, a Club House with a second restaurant.
The estate is on the ‘Carretere del Vino’, wine route which links many of the top producers in the valley and wine tourists can also travel on the ‘Tre de Vino’, a steam train which runs a few days a week from San Fernando to Santa Cruz.
‘Tourism was of course affected by the earthquake on 27th February last, but it is now recovering’, Mario says.
Casa Silva emerged from the earthquake relatively unscathed. ‘We lost around 5% of our production, but it was mainly wine stored in large tanks, rather than our premium wines’, he says. The houses of some employees were destroyed, but the company moved promptly to replace them with new dwellings. He says that most of the 500 casualties which resulted from the earthquake occurred when a tsunami hit the coast.
Chile is confident however that it will remembered in 2010 not for the earthquake but for the celebration of the 200th. Anniversary of its Independence. ‘It is an opportunity for us to tell the world about the Chilean way of life, the attractions of our country as a tourism destination, and of course our wines’, Mario says.
A keen sportsman he enjoys playing polo and captained the Chile team which won the World Polo Cup in Mexico in 2008.