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Best of TFL: The New Gang of Four

Best of TFL: The New Gang of Four

Roberto, Rénan, Macarena, Manuel, Mauricio

That’s Team Pipeño, devoted to its resurrection. Maca, in the middle, spoke for all of them when she said “I want to show the world that Chile has always made natural wine.” Well, it’s not going to be so easy. After all, they still don’t have any support from their commercial wine arm.

However, inside of the country, things are different. Pipeño has become something of a fashion the way qvevri wine has become a la mode in Georgia. This is evidenced by some of the big companies who are offering versions of the humble wine and the fact that 2017 Catad’Or Wine Awards will offer a new category for “peasant wine.”

But you know how many assume that all Georgian wines are natural? Pipeños and those seeking them can fall victim to mistaken identity. Beware. The real ones, full of vitality, like from this quartet, are difficult to come by, but so worth it if you want to taste the deep soul of Chilean wine.

Los Campesinos

Roberto Henríquez

After working with Rene Mosse (Loire) and Louis-Antoine, Roberto is now on his own working as Louis-Antoine does—with a handful of old growers, paying prices for their grapes that allow them to stay on their land. He is also farming. He has taken over a 200-year-old vineyard of país and is making pipeño (and another país in carbo) from those glittering blood red quartz-flecked granitic soils. Those vines, secluded in the wood, perhaps too close to the evil pines, reminded me so much of gentle fields that I played in on moonlit nights in the Delaware River Valley in upstate New York.

Roberto Henríquez
2016 País Pipeño

Where   Bío Bío, Chile
Soil   Gorgeous blood-red granitic
SO2   Minimal added at bottling
Price   TBD
Importer   None in the US

At 11.5% this is a hot day thirst-quencher, dusty with a touch of eucalyptus that I sometimes get in a few wines from others I’ve tasted. His pipeño, made traditionally, is right out of the vin de soif camp, easy to drink and easy to finish with a poulsard likeness. Minimal SO2 added at bottling.

Manuel Moraga: Cacique Maravilla

“Seventh generation,” Manuel Moraga of the Buffalo Bill mustache says proudly of his winemaking. He started out in forestry, though, and having inherited ample land with darkened volcanic soils, he returned in 2009 to farm and to make wine. He grows a variety of grapes (cabernet, cot, país) on own-roots and grafts. The país of Cacique Maravilla came from his mother’s side. The cabernet from his father. One could write a novel about the nature of this kind of inheritance. In 2010 his property and winery were devastated by the earthquake. The work to rebuild has been steady but slow. He lost most of his barrels and now the raising of the pipeño, he sheepishly admits, is done in flex tanks. He has nothing to be ashamed about. His pipeño still does his mother honor.

Cacique Maravilla
2016 Pipeño País

Where   Yumbel, Bío Bío, Chile
Soil   Volcanic, basaltic
SO2   None
Price   $19 (liter)
Importer   Indie Wineries

A crunchy sort of pipeño, that is just the thing that you want to keep on drinking. Edgy, vibrant, licorice and a little tar with a bite of a fresh apricot acidity and freshness. No SO2 added.

Renán Cancino: Bodegas El Viejo Almacén de Sauzal

Renán’s first solo vintage, like Manuel’s, was in 2009. “It was clean and correct,” he said. But 2010 had a different idea for him. The earthquake. His village Sauzal was flattened. But wine needed to be made. Pressed for time, he was inattentive—and loved the result. That opened the world of doing as little as possible. His travels reinforced understanding that any additions, even sulfur at bottling, were not for him. He also absorbed ideas such as long aging from traditionalists in Piemonte like Lorenzo Accomasso. And together, those two notions formed his future. He will keep his wines through at least two winters.

When I asked him what he hopes the group will do, he said he wants to show the world that there is a real history to Chilean wine that goes beyond the international vines and money. In other words, working with país and pipeño is their way of rescuing Chilean wine culture—and reputation.

El Viejo Almacén de Sauzal
2014 Huaso de Sauzal Chilena

Where   D.O. Secano Interior, Cauquenes
Soil   Granitic
SO2   None
Price   $30
Importer   Indie Wineries

The 2014 is currently in the US market and the more acidic 2015 can be found elsewhere. When I had the 2016 in barrel and it was so lovely, I thought, are you sure you don’t want to bottle this mencia-like beauty? But I digress. The 2015. There’s a tomato juiciness in this with a lovely tannin, some volatility that reminds me of some great wines from La Stoppa, and a medium long finish. It’s a sturdy wine and evident that even with the fresh pipeños, Renán’s belief in long aging comes through.

Mauricio Gonzalez Carreño

Mauricio, like Renán, was a refugee from the technical world of wine and now he’s home. His winery is bare, spare with plenty of room to move. Some tinajas here. Old barrels of the native raulí beechwood there. And then the old wooden press in rehabilitation.

Fermentation takes about a month and five days. Shorter than Renán’s, but who’s counting. Then the chicha—the free run juice—goes into the ancient barrels. “This is my idea,” he said. “No chemicals that my child can get into trouble with. I want him to be able to play here.” Wine is simple. Food,” he says. He cleans with SO2 but does not use it in winemaking.

Mauricio Gonzalez Carreño Vinto Tinto
2016 País Pipeño

Where   Yumbel, Bío Bío, Chile
Soil   Extrusive and intrusive igneous
SO2   None
Price   TBD
Importer   None in the US

Mauricio makes beautiful wines. His 2016 was serious stuff and his 2014 contemplative serious stuff. Bitter and a savage velvet finish with an old-fashioned structure, licorice, complexity and exuberance.