Viña Koyle, who started out with just 50ha in 2006 in Colchagua (Chile), show how ethical and sustainable practices are being realised in a very hands-on way on their family-owned estate, thanks to the close relationship they have with their land.
Cristóbal Undurraga is unusual in Chile as he’s one of the few producers who actually lives with his family on the vineyard as ‘viticultor’ – responsible for both making the wine and tending the vines. This gives him a unique perspective on the land he farms, chosen after much research as the best place to start their new venture back in 2006. From the outset the vision was to produce high-quality wines that expressed the terroir. Cristóbal, a highly experienced winemaker (having worked at high-profile estates around the world) was convinced that the best way to achieve this was through organic or biodynamic farming.
‘When you have grown your grapes from scratch without using any chemicals you produce cleaner, healthier grapes with more stability and concentration, better able to express the terroir – and it’s healthier and more pleasant for those working on the estate too,’ he explains.
The birds and the bees
By being close to the land, Cristóbal was able to observe the popularity of his syrah vines with the local bee population. Syrah grapes can be quite sensitive to moisture: the skins split and botrytis can set in. When this happens, the bees are the first to notice, Cristóbal discovered. Attracted by the sugar oozing out of the grapes, they suck the sweetness from the grape and in so doing prevent rot from taking hold and the grapes can then heal and grow normally. Now Cristóbal actively encourages this free form of natural rot prevention, building colourful beehives around the syrah vines.
The most outstanding effect of working under biodynamic methods, Cristóbal tells us, is ‘to witness the biodiversity flourish as birds, plants and bugs become more and more established making each vineyard different from the next with a diverse ecosystem, bringing greater expression to the land and ultimately the wine.’
Water and energy solutions
Water is an issue here as it is for many Chilean wine producers. The winery’s ecological reservoir retains water from the mountains for irrigation, but the last three years have been extremely dry, something Cristóbal acknowledges is going to become even more of a challenge and which they currently have no solutions for.
When it comes to energy use, they have 100 solar panels which have helped to reduce about 30% of their energy consumption and have plans to build their own 100% self-sufficient winery in the future; their current building is built from stones dug out of the vineyards. They also plan to make an eco-park for tourists to enjoy the surroundings and gain a better understanding of the link between nature and fine wine and food. Education is an important aspect, Cristóbal feels, so encouraging city-dwellers to get out into nature is something he’s passionate about doing.
Cristóbal also feels that it is important to educate consumers to understand more about how wine is made and in particular do dispel myths around biodynamic practices. ‘If retailers could help understand and teach consumers more about organics and biodynamics, and not to just mention the astronomical side and buried horns, but more about the benefits for the soil, the vines, the biodiversity it creates and therefore the improved quality of the grapes, that would be much more of a help.’ As a small producer, Koyle say that they don’t have the funds to communicate everything they do in the vineyard and cellar and have to rely on us to do that job for them.
Right from the beginning our buyer Toby Morrhall saw that there was great potential here with the combination of Cristóbal’s winemaking skills and natural feel for the land. Whether you believe in the philosophy behind biodynamics or not, the quality of the subsequent wines is proof enough that the extra attention to detail pays off, as did Toby’s hunch.
Discover Viña Koyle wines