Global critics herald ‘revolution’ in Chile’s oldest wine region

Two prestigious British publications explore the frontier of innovation in the Maule wine valley – which hearkens to the region’s long enological history.

Chilean wine seems to be on everyone’s lips this year – both literally and figuratively. Exports are expanding and multiplying in foreign markets, and wine-lovers are buzzing about the premier wine route in the Colchagua Valley and the gamut of exciting new wine regions opening each year.
Now, international critics are surprised to find themselves reconsidering one of Chile’s oldest – and most humble – wine regions: Maule.
The Maule region is the historical epicenter of the Chilean wine industry, but for reasons both sociological and enological – see more here – the region had been largely consigned to producing cheap wines for the domestic market. But in 2009, an ambitious project to support small-scale wine production helped bring the region’s historic Carignan varietals back on the map.
The story appears to begin with a Canadian marketing expert, Derek Mossman Knapp, according to these twin stories in The Financial Times and
The Telegraph. The Financial Times explains how Mossman discovered “a completely unrealised and so-far-unmarketed asset in the vineyards of its least glamorous wine region, Maule.”
“His marketing antennae twitched delightedly when he encountered tinajas, ancient earthenware fermentation vessels eerily similar to the amphorae and expensive ‘concrete eggs’ being adopted by fashion-conscious ‘natural wine’ producers in the rest of the world.”
A cooperative effort between Mossman’s MOVI organization – which supports small-scale wineries – and local wine producers, including the Cauquenes cooperative Las Lomas and major vineyards like Valdivieso, Miguel Torres and Undurraga, led to the launch of the new appellation, Vigno.
Wine sold as Vigno is produced by the Vignadores de Carignan association and is specific to both the unique geography of Maule and the Carignan varietal, which was planted in the region 60 or 70 years ago. Wines must be at least 65 percent Carignan from vines at least 30 years old, and aged for 24 months on dry-farmed bushvines – a characteristic distinction between this poorer wine region and the irrigated, latticed vineyards further north.
So how’s the wine? It looks like it will be a serious – and unique – contender on the Chilean wine scene. Wine critic Victoria Moore at The Telegraph praised “the complexity and the perfume” of the 2010 Carignan produced by Mossman’s own label, Garage Wine Company.