Harvest Diary from Chile – Day 1

19 April, Tuesday – Day 1
We took the Nilahue bus company’s service from Santiago Bus Station to Marchigue in the Colchagua Valley. We reached Santa Cruz when the clutch in the bus started to play up. We managed to pull in to the bus station in the centre of town, where the driver tried to rectify the engineering issue, but not very successfully. After a quick change of vehicles, we were on the way to cover the last leg of our 4-hour journey.

Once we left Santiago, the lush agricultural landscape of the Central Valley was providing the view with wineries inviting the traveller for tasting and visitor experience. The ranges of the Andes were dramatically bordering the valley. Once we left Santa Cruz and were driving off the motorway, the landscape opened up and a variety of farms lined the road: grapevines, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables. Once in Marchigue, we got off the bus, which quickly left us in the centre of the village. A bit like the latino-looking villages in American movies surrounded by the prairie. A wine restaurant was located conveniently close enough, so we had our welcome beer there, whilst Sven Bruchfeld of Polkura Vineyards, our host came to pick us up with his 4×4 truck.

Once we dropped off our luggage at the newly erected log cabin, we drove down to the winery. Both the log cabin and the winery sit in the middle of the 100-hectar estate, of which 27 is currently under vine. The harvest started with the difficulty of organising pickers, who had to be convinced with a pay rise to turn up for work. $50 per day wage did the trick very easily, so Sven suspected he might have overshot the amount of wage that would have been needed.

View of the Polkura Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley

At the winery we met Brendan, a young Australian winemaker, who is staying here for the harvest and shares the log cabin with us. A native of Margaret River, Western Australia, he had arrived from the Okanagan Valley via the West Coast of the USA, Mexico and other Central and South American countries. He was busy with plugging one of the containers holding the destemmed and crushed grapes. They had already harvested Grenache Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah. More Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot still to come.

As the winery is new, as opposed to having three different hired locations last year, Sven could afford to experiment with picking Syrah in three different stages. The first picking had finished fermentation and was macerated, it showed a lean body, which he called a bit green, though I would not have said green, just very lean, fresh and crisp. The second picking showed more body due to heftier alcohol, more generous tannins and riper fruits, whilst the third picking was coming from one of the best plots and it was truly fragrant and scented with berries, violets and paprika as well as a lovely soft bunch of tannins, full body.

Delivery of a New Tank

Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, they are left in the container for overnight with some potassium metabisulphite (equalling 50 parts of sulphur) so as to arrest all indigenous yeasts or bacteria before they would inoculate with BO213 Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain of commercial yeast. The yeasts are fed with added nutrients to avoid stuck fermentation.

As for the barrels, they are only from French oak, as Sven phased out American oaks, but did not explain in more detail when or why. The barrels are around €700-800, and he buys about 20% new every year. However, as they were growing in size, they had retained the barrels from the past 7 years so far, which gives less than 20% new barrel for the new wine. Wines are kept in barrel for a year for the reason of vessel and space management.

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