Interviews with Chile’s wine industry innovators

In the second part of this series of interviews with Chile’s leading winemakers, This is Chile speaks to José Manuel Ortega about re-imagining the Carignan grape.  

When This is Chile reported on the viticultural archaeologists digging up forgotten strains of grape varietals in Chile’s centuries-old vineyards, it inspired a series of conversations with some of the leading innovators in Chile’s industry.

In part one of this series, This is Chile spoke with Miguel Torres, of Miguel Torres Chile, about the history of Chilean vineyards and his projects to re-imagine the most traditional of Chilean grapes – El País.

This time around we speak to Spanish-born banker-turned-wine entrepreneur, José Manuel Ortega of the O.Fournier winery, about why he chose to establish a vineyard in Chile and how he is reinvigorating production of Carignan, another age-old grape varietal.

Why Chile?

With successful vineyards in both Spain and Argentina, Ortega’s strategy has been to look for distinct wine-growing regions in which to establish unique, terroir-oriented wines.

So it’s no surprise that the diversity of Chile’s wine-growing regions inspired the forward-thinking winemaker to look across the Andes for his third vineyard.

“After many years searching the distinct regions of Chile, we are really enthusiastic about the Maule Valley,” Ortega told This is Chile.

“The technical conditions of the valley impressed us, its soils poor in organic material, sufficient rains and hot, dry summers with cold nights,” said Ortega, naming what is essentially a checklist of conditions for robust, full-flavored grapes.

And though the Maule might not have the starpower of Chilean wine’s current darling – nearby Colchagua Valley – it did have something else that, for Ortega at least, made it Chile’s wine region par excellence.

“We also found a significant quantity of old vineyards containing a variety of different strains,” said Ortega. “Carignan has impressed us the most up to this point.”

Ortega on Carignan

“It’s a surprising and original variety, with some exotic aromas that tend to be very ageable in wine blends,” said Ortega of the strain that, for centuries in Chile, has been used to add color and taste to low-quality blends.

Recently Ortega and other producers in the Maule have began experimenting with Carignan, and have discovered that as the grape ages, its acquires a completely distinct and complex aroma.

Now Ortega is confident that, with a new approach to Carignan, the strain can become Chile’s most prominent of wines.

“We think it has the potential to be the queen of Chilean grapes, surpassing even Carmenere in quality.”