Chilean Winning Wine

By / Wine + Drinks / October 21st, 2011 / 1

We tend to think of Chile as a long, skinny country, a wine region that runs north to south. But that’s something of a misnomer, according to Derek Mossman Knapp: “It’s more accurate to say that we go [west to east], from the extreme coast to several mountain properties, and that goes up and down the country. There’s lots of variety in terroirs.”

And these terroirs are being exploited by a new grouping of garagiste winemakers who promote and commercialize their wines together under the Spanish acronym MOVI, which translates to the Movement of Independent Vintners (movi.cl).  

Derek Mossman Knapp, a Canadian married to a Chilean winemaker, is a founding member and director of MOVI and the co-owner of Garage Wine Co. Together he and his wife, Pilar Miranda, make high-altitude Cabernet and Pinot Noir in Alto Maipo and Carignan from venerable old bush vines south of Cauquenes.

The MOVI group is the antithesis of what we have come to expect of Chilean wineries — huge enterprises that have long portfolios of products. To become a member, a winery has to be small and quality oriented. They must “make wine personally, on a human scale.” They must “craft wine to reflect a particular vision, beyond origin and terroir (which are a given)” and must not be “Fortune 500 companies, not economic groups, and not patrons of convenience.”

Many of the members produce only a single wine, and according to their constitution they must have “the capacity for irreverence where required.” This approach has earned them the reputation as Chile’s enfants terribles.

While many of them are too small to offer their wines for export — some make only a few thousand bottles — they are changing the way Chilean wines are marketed abroad. Some progressive importers are realizing that instead of representing a single property from Chile that can offer them a range of varietals and blends, they can actually get a whole bunch of small, highly individual producers. As Mossman says, “In the history of Chile, no one wanted to share an importer with someone else from Chile.”

Within the group, one-third are garagistes who started very small; another third are winemakers who work in a big bodega and have zeroed in on what they would like to do — in a style that doesn’t fit within management strategies so they’ve made the wine on their own; and the rest have left the comfortable situation at a winery and have struck out on their own. Several of the winemakers have brought their experience from France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the US.

Last year MOVI wines had a presence in London. “We all put $127 in a hat,” recalls Mossman. “Someone got on a plane to New York, tasted with two critics and went on to the London Wine Fair. And we were the belle of the ball. It was a counter-culture sort of thing.”

Tim Atkin MW tasted their wines at the Fair and commented to Mossman, “I knew the moment I saw you that the MOVI group were different from the rest of the Chileans because you don’t have the crease in the front of your jeans that your maid clearly didn’t iron.”

Last January I had the unique experience of tasting 29 MOVI wines at a backyard barbecue in Santiago prepared by Derek Mossman. The most impressive are Marina Garcia Schwaderer Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Villard Chardonnay 2005, Carabantes Syrah 2008, Polkura Syrah 2008, Villard Tanagra Syrah 2008, and Viña von Siebenthal Montelig 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon 80%, Carmenère 5% and Petit Verdot 15%). Altogether a very impressive showing from a fledgling organization that may well change the face of the Chilean wine industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony Aspler has been writing about wine for over 30 years. He was the wine columnist for The Toronto Star for 21 years and has authored sixteen books on wine and food, including The Wine Atlas of Canada, Vintage Canada, The Wine Lover's Companion, The Wine Lover Cooks and Travels With My Corkscrew. Tony's latest book is Tony Aspler's Cellar Book.

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