When I first tried a sampling of organic wine from California about a decade ago, it was all downright awful. At that time I felt like “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s was a better option—at a fraction of the price. A few years ago I tried again, this time with a range of organic wines from Oregon. Better, but still inferior to regular wines from the same region, especially considering the higher price.
Some say that the more strict organic labeling requirements in the U.S. lead to an inferior product: they say that producing wine with no sulfites pretty much guarantees that the wine will have a poor shelf life and you’d better drink it very quickly. If not it will get progressively worse.
While touring through Chile recently, however, I discovered two wineries that appear to have crossed the threshold. The wines coming out of Matetic and Emiliana are consistently as good or better than those coming from vineyards using non-organic methods. You can drink these just because you like good wine: the eco-friendly part is a bonus.
Producing organic and biodynamic wine is not easy. Matetic and Emiliana both have herds of sheep roaming the grounds to chew up the grass and weeds between the vines and to provide natural fertilizer. The companies use solar energy and biofuels and are attempting to get certified as carbon-neutral. Keeping the bugs away requires more labor, though Chile’s topography means fewer pests than in the U.S. and Europe.
Matetic’s winery in the Rosario Valley employs a wide range of biodynamic principles, like being built into a hill to keep the temperature contstant and using gravity-fed hoses instead of pumps. In order to maintain diversity and give employees a stake in the business, Emiliana allows them to grow their own crops on company-owned land adjoining the vineyards (like olive trees for olive oil), with profits from these side projects going to the families directly.
I was impressed by the results, the whole line from both wineries being on par with the quality found in other top Chilean wineries. Over and over in these wines I found a surprising level of complexity and variety. Emiliana’s red blend Coyam was heavenly with the ribs I was eating for lunch. The critics apparently agree: Coyam won a Best Wine in Chile award in its first vintage from the Wines of Chile Annual Awards.
Matetic has obtained scores above 90 in Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, and Wine & Spirits.
Emiliana’s wine brands include Gê (the first certified biodynamic wine in Latin America), Coyam (the second), Novas, Natura (branded as Adobe in Chile), and Emiliana itself. Some are blends and the varietals include Syrah, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Savignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Carmenere. You won’t pay an “organic premium” for most of these though: the Natura Carmenere and Savignon Blanc ones I tried retail between $10 and $15 in the U.S. Maybe that’s why this is the 3rd-largest Organic brand in the U.S. See more at the Emiliana website. http://www.emiliana.cl
Matetic’s wine brands include EQ, Corralillo, and Matetic. Varietals include Syrah, Chardonney, Savignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir. See more at Matetic.com.
For more on the wide range of Chilean wine, organic or not, see the Wines of Chile site.