|June 15, 2005|
|Cono Surís secret: Geese, Grease and Grass|
Many aspects of todayís wine picture puzzle me. I donít understand why some Australian wines are so popular (donít ask me for names, and Iíll tell you no tales). I donít understand why rosť wines from many countries arenít more popular. And I donít understand why Chilean wines donít have a bigger share of our market.
Thatís not to say there isnít a reasonable choice in the Chile section of the LCBO and Vintages. But Chile offers such good quality at fair prices across the board that Iíd expect even more. It puzzles Chileís wine producers, too, and theyíre making concerted efforts to increase exports.
In Chile briefly last December, I visited a few wineries near Santiago. I wouldnít want to generalize about Chileís wine industry from a handful of wineries. About 200 are scattered throughout the narrow length of the country, and theyíre as diverse as youíd expect: huge companies churning out millions of boxes and bottles for domestic consumption and export, and small boutique operations; new startups and upstarts, and companies that trace their roots back centuries.
Still, I was impressed by what they are achieving at all levels, from basic, everyday wine to the super-premiums. Theyíre conscious of their history and traditions (vines were planted in Chile in the mid-1500s, long before some of the most famous European wine regions) but not afraid to innovate.
One that especially impressed me is Cono Sur, a relatively new and small unit of the massive Concha y Toro company. Cono Sur cultivates 300 hectares of grapes by the ďintegrated managementĒ method. This is virtually organic farming, where chemical pesticides and herbicides are reduced to a minimum or eliminated. In these vineyards, geese, grease, garlic, grass and bright flowers do the jobs that chemicals do elsewhere.
The more than 700 geese eat the burritos — not what you order at your area Mexican restaurant, but small insects that live in the soil and migrate up the vine trunks in spring. The burritos that survive the geese and climb the vines encounter a band of grease and garlic thatís enough to repel them and send them back to earth — where the geese get a second go.
As for grass, itís used to deal with small red spiders that attack vine leaves. Grass is planted between every other row and inoculated with white spiders that prey on their red cousins. The flowers? Theyíre planted every five rows to attract the California prips, an insect that otherwise would attack vine flowers.
The only downside is the geese. Toward the end of summer, they forget their contract (eating burritos) and prefer a diet of sweet grapes. So, for the month before harvest, the geese are confined to a fenced area that includes the vineyard reservoir.
Chileís climate and soil make organic viticulture easier than in many other parts of the world. The dry climate, for instance, makes mildew a rare problem. Still, not all vineyards are as environmentally friendly as Cono Surís and, to my mind, itís an additional reason to support their wines.
Four Cono Sur wines today, all available from the LCBO. The two 1.5-litre bottles are excellent value for summer parties.
CONO SUR TOCORNAL SAUVIGNON BLANC 2004 A refreshing, crisp white that has very good Sauvignon Blanc character. Solid fruit flavours (green apple, citrus and a hint of tropical) with good acidity make it a versatile white for grilled fish and seafood. Alcohol 13 per cent; $13.95 for a 1.5-L bottle. LCBO No. 306472.
CONO SUR PINOT NOIR 2004 This is very good value; itís hard to find a better Pinot at this price. Itís a lighter style, with good fruit (sour cherry) accented with spice, and food-friendly Pinot acidity. It pairs very well with grilled salmon or lamb. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $9.95 a bottle. LCBO No. 341602.
CONO SUR TOCORNAL CABERNET SAUVIGNON MERLOT 2004 A straightforward, medium-bodied, fruit-driven blend dominated by red plum and dark berry flavours. Well balanced, with the lightest trace of tannins, it pairs well with dishes from hamburgers to steak. Alcohol 13 per cent; $13.95 for a 1.5-L bottle. LCBO No. 257170.
CONO SUR MERLOT 2004 A good-value, fruity, straightforward red wine for summer meals. Look for fairly intense fruit (plum, black cherry) with spicy notes, and light tannins. Itís medium-bodied and works well with spicy ribs and grilled red meats. Alcohol 14 per cent; $8.95 a bottle. LCBO No. 457176.
|Home Welcome A Short History of Wine Wine Classes Presentations Wine Facts and FAQs Newsletter Archives Contact Me|