The Chilean winemaker parade continued as I sat down the other day with Antonio Bravo, winemaker at Viñedos Emiliana, the organic project owned by the Guilisasti family of Concha y Toro. [Note: The name of the winery recently changed from Viñedos Orgánicos Emiliana to just Viñedos Emiliana.]
Bravo, 38, is energetic and demonstrative when he speaks. He’s also very committed to organic and biodynamic farming methods. What makes his story interesting though, is that he’s a recent convert to organics. Bravo worked for several years at Kendall-Jackson’s Tapiz winery in Argentina, and when that was sold, he went to work for Kendall-Jackson in California, neither of which farmed with organic principles.
Argentine by birth, Bravo eventually returned home and was working at Viña Haras de Pirque, where he first met Álvaro Espinoza, one of Chile’s top winemakers and a big proponent of biodynamic principals.
At the time, Espinoza was setting up Emiliana’s Bodegas Los Robles facility in Colchagua, where the Coyam and Gê wines are made. The winery sits amidst 395 acres of vineyards, all of which are organically farmed. As the project continued to grow, Espinoza eventually brought Bravo on board. His first vintage at Emiliana was in 2006.
“Alvaro told me it was a good tool to get good grapes,” explained Bravo of his introduction to organic farming. “And as he explained it, it made good sense.”
But Bravo soon found himself grappling with methods he was completely unfamiliar with such as natural yeast fermentation.
“When I started here, they told me I couldn’t use DAP anymore,” said Bravo [DAP is a food used to spur yeasts during fermentations]. “Now I had been using DAP for 12 straight vintages, so I was a little unsure. But after just two years working this way [all natural yeast fermentation], I think it’s better,” he said.
Viñedos Emiliana has continued to grow in recent years: It now totals more than 3,700 acres of vines, one-third of which are farmed either organically or biodynamically (yes, there is a difference). The winery’s high-end Gê (a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère blend) and Coyam (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot and Petit Verdot) wines are both made from biodynamically farmed vineyards. The newly released Novas line (official reviews will appear in the coming weeks) is sourced from organically farmed vineyards.
Bravo and Espinoza are working to convert the remaining vineyards as well, at a rate of about 250 acres a year. That’s ambitious, since most organic or biodynamic vineyards are worked on a much smaller scale.
“Not every day is a fruit day or a flower day,” said Bravo, referring to the calendar used by biodynamic farmers to plot out viticultural work. “So when you’ve got 160 hectares of vines that need to be harvested, it’s not always practical to follow it every step of the way. So yes, it’s difficult and it’s a real commitment. But at the end of the day, the grapes are coming in good, and that’s the main focus.”
Andrew Miner — February 1, 2008 8:46pm ET
James Molesworth — February 2, 2008 8:13am ET
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