When imagining ‘cool climate’ wines, what springs to my mind first is the image of soggy, wet vines and miserable days of drizzle that leave your head firmly in the clouds, and not in a good way. Spending the first 25 years of my life in England probably didn’t help that image.
But in Chile… as I sat lapping up the sunshine by a glistening swimming pool, under perfect blue skies, and listening to birds squawk in the palm trees of Matetic winery’s boutique hotel in Casablanca/San Antonio, I started to question my initial impressions of cool climate… It wasn’t cold here. In fact, it was positively balmy.
Casablanca might be a cool climate wine region, but visiting the area is not a frosty experience: days are filled with sunshine and warm lazy afternoons drinking copious amounts of wine as you tuck into fine Chilean cuisine. This particular afternoon I was tucking into fresh and buttery potted crab with a glass of tropical fruit-filled Chardonnay, followed by a rosemary-crusted lamb fillet with a smooth, spicy Syrah. I couldn’t keep my top button done up, let alone keep my jacket on.
While the day time temperatures and sunny climes make Casablanca a perfect holiday destination, the cooler nights mean you won’t lose any hours of sleep and can still rest nicely with a big blanket – that is good news for people and for grapes. The big difference in temperature from the sunny, skin ripening days compared to the cool, cool nights is what makes these wines so racy. And in the morning when you do finally wake from a perfect slumber, a fresh fog lays over the valley keeping the grapes cool and not awakening them too rudely either. The sun slowly appears through the fog, and then we are back to sunbathing. I understand why grapes do so well here: they can rest at night, and get some colour during the day. And that is the secret to the success of cool climate wines… maintaining the cool acidity while developing their colour, sugar and flavour profiles in the summer-y afternoons.
Working your way around the attractive and modern wineries of Casablanca it would seem that this was the natural choice for vineyard plantation, but just 30 years ago no-one dared to plant here. The risk of frost (which is still a real risk) and the foggy mornings put people off of grape cultivation, in favour of planting in the warm Mediterranean climates inland. One crazy man though did plant here, Pablo Morande, and while most of Chile looked at him as a complete nutter they didn’t acknowledge that insanity is the flipside of genius until they learnt which side of the coin Morande was on, when they tasted his wines. They were fantastic, and it was here in cool Casablanca that Chile’s journey into cool climate wines began three decades ago.
Since then, Chile hasn’t looked back. Once someone had broken the ice (obviously not literally – it isn’t that cold) winemaker’s began exploring throughout different cool coastal areas up and down the country, even planting in Elqui Valley, which with its position next to the Atacama Desert region is just as mind blowing in its definition as cool. But Casablanca still remains the reference point for Chile’s cool climate wines: making sharp Sauvignon Blancs, refreshing Pinot Noirs and silky Syrahs.
Want to book a wine tour in Casablanca? Check out our wine tour of Casablanca here.