Pipas are the barrels made of raulí, the redwood casks Chilean campesinos would keep in the cellars of their homes, to store the wine they’d made from their most recent harvest. These farmers would drink their pipeño, or cart their pipa from town to town, selling it to locals, who would bring their bottles to fill.
It took a few contemporary French settlers to recognize the value in the ancient-vine país and the vino pipeño locals produced from these pockets of talented vines. Suddenly, these fresh, rustic reds are showing up in chic bars in Santiago, not to mention natural-wine-centric restaurants like Terroir in San Francisco, Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen in Kansas City, Missouri, and Rouge Tomate in New York City.
Born in Brittany, Louis-Antoine Luyt has been in Chile for 18 years and had discovered país and pipeño back in the early 1990s. “At first, what struck me was that nobody noticed this grape. Nobody wanted to take advantage of vines so old that they had managed to adapt and, especially, to survive.”
Today, Luyt continues to make El País de Quenehuao while exploring other incarnations of these ancient vines. “I started with país believing that fine wine could be made with it, even though everyone told me that it was not worth anything. And then, while looking to make fine wines, I realized that the wines that people make in the countryside surpass what I do.” Luyt had started to bottle his own pipeño, but has since decided that he prefers to act as a négociant instead of a producer, bottling the wines made by small growers he has come to know from Maule to Bío Bío, where 18,728 of the total 18,098 acres of país in the whole of Chile grow.
One vino pipeño he bottles as a negociant is Santa Juana, from ancient vines growing in granitic clay soils on the southern bank of the Bío Bío river. Sara Burgos, who owns the property, made this país using some non-traditional methods, such as a destemmer and stainless steel tanks. But the soul of país remains in the wine, intact: it’s light and refreshing, filled with spicy red fruit flavors as well as some funky earth tones.
Luyt does not think that the production techniques of pipeño needs to be regulated or defined. “Every campesino has his way. And everyone believes that the pipeño he makes is the best.” More important than rules, he thinks, is valuing a culture heritage. “Pipeño was the water and the food of the people. It’s the blood of Chile.” They produce with old vines, mainly país, in Itata and Bio-Bio. Getting money from ProChile, a government organization, to promote their wines.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Other producers of vino pipeño have since banded together to form the Asociación de Productores de Vino Campesino de Chile. All the members are growers in the dry-farmed vineyards of Maule, Itata and Bío-Bío, working together to promote and preserve the production of Chile’s artisanal wines. One of the members, Roberto Henríquez, explains that, “In the case of Pipeño, we believe in the diversity of production techniques. However, what we promote is, if it is red, it must be one-hundred-percent país, because it is the Chilean ancestral grape. And it should respect the light, refreshing style.”
Before launching his own winery, Henríquez worked in large, commercial wineries such as Santa Ema and Santa Rita. Then he worked the harvest with Agnes and René Mosse, who farm
vines biodynamically and make vin naturel at their vineyard near Angers, in France’s Loire Valley. When he returned to home to the south of Chile, he had a new idea of what he wanted to do. “With the Mosses I learned not only to produce wines with minimal intervention, but also that I wanted to produce wine on my own property, with everything at hand, on a human scale.”
Henríquez has just built a house where he lives with his wife and daughter in Patagual, on the southern bank of the Bío Bío. He plans to build his winery, dug into the side of a mountain in the coastal range. “From here I’m six miles from the sea, so I can have very good fish. And the vineyards I work with are thirty miles away, ” he says. Henríquez produces one pipeño, from país vines growing in Nacimiento, upstream from his home, along the Bío Bío River. While the vineyard of Sara Burgos in Santa Juana is higher up in the coastal hills, this is right next to the river, the alluvial soil rich in clay and gravel. Over the last several harvests, Henríquez has concentrated on managing the vineyard to control production—learning to restrain país yields, which can be very generous.
Though he labels his wine as pipeño, he recognizes that he does not meet all of his own requirements. “This is one-hundred-percent país, destemmed in zaranda, fermented in cement and wood lagares, but it’s blended in stainless steel before bottling,” he says. “I´m working with an artisan to recover some old pipas, and hope to start using them in the next vintage.” Compared to Luyt’s Santa Juana Pipeño, Henríquez’s wine feels more tannic and astringent, with enough grip for arrollado de pernil, a pork sausage traditional in the south of Chile. And yet the wine is also deliciously refreshing.
THE LAVA FLOW
Moraga, with his long Prussian officer mustache, tends the old país vines, planted on soils the locals called “de trumao,” which looks like very fine sand and derives from volcanic rock. The 2010 earthquake, which devastated the area, destroyed most of his old winemaking equipment. Using fiberglass containers and destemmer machines, he began to produce vino pipeño in 2011 under the brand Cacique Maravilla, focusing on his inheritance of old vines. “I think they must be about two hundred and fifty years old, maybe more,” says Moraga.
His pipeño is an energetic red, intense in ripeness and also in herbal and earthy notes. “I believe that pipeño is made from longanizas,” Moraga jokes, referring to a local sausage similar to Spanish chorizo. And, in fact, longanizas would be the perfect companion to calm this intense país.
THE BASQUE IN MAULE
For Maitía, Marcel buys grapes from different areas of Maule and leases space in wineries to make his wines. During his first harvest, he met a worker in one of those wineries. “Don Jorge was his name,” Marcel recalls. “One day he showed me the wine he made for his friends, a pipeño.” Marcel was delighted by the wine, so simple and fruity, and showed it to his wife. They both decided they needed to make their own, so they began asking the locals for advice. They now produce Aupa Pipeño, a crisp, refreshing red made with 70 percent país in a blend with carignan.
Spurred on by the success of small producers like these, vino pipeño is beginning to attract notice from the Chile’s oenological mainstream. In the last three years, wineries such as Concha y Toro (under Marqués de Casa Concha), San Pedro (Los Despedidos) and J. Bouchon (País Salvaje) have all bottled pipeño. Compared to a traditional pipeño, even if made with more contemporary tools and methods, these reds are similar in their light colors, earthy flavors and refreshing flavors. Vino pipeño offers a completely different face of Chile, a style of wines that gives the country a way into the conversation about natural wines and joins in the eternal search for wines of authenticity. Pipeño is Chile.
This story was featured in W&S February 2017.