The sun, the drought, the heights … the Atacama Desert in a glass of wine

Released Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at 07:12

In the middle of the Atacama Desert, in the north of Chile, 71-year-old Hector Espindola raises his flag, living in a green oasis in Tokonawa, almost 3,000 meters above sea level, very close to one river. Andean Snow.

In the world’s driest land, Chile’s tallest vines thrive, 1,500 km south of the largest wine-growing area in the center.

In addition to altitude, in this area you have to deal with negative temperatures at night and intense sunlight during the day.

In his small garden in Tokonavo, about forty kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama, Mr. Espindola grows muscat and a “native grape” (creole) in the shade of quince, pear and fig trees at an altitude of 2,475 meters. Irrigation to a nearby stream.

This flow makes it possible to water at night “once every three or four days by flooding”, he explains to AFP in the middle of his vines, two months after harvest, showing their autumn leaves.

“With irrigation like this, I find myself producing a little more every year. But you have to be careful, because the heat here, the climate is extreme,” he insists.

The winemaker brings its harvest to the Oil Cooperative, which has consolidated 18 small winemakers from the area since 2017, mostly Indigenous people of Atacama and worked separately on a few hundred m2 estates.

Of these, at 3,600 meters above sea level, in Choctaw, Cecilia Cruz, 67, is proud to be the tallest vineyard in the country.

“I feel so special to have this vineyard here and to make wine at this height,” she says in the middle of some dry bunches hanging after the harvest. He hopes to further develop his product so that he has a “future” for his three sons.

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– “Desert Taste” –

By 2021, the cooperative had received 16 tons of grapes, allowing it to produce 12,000 bottles. Harvest in 2022 was excellent, with more than 20 tons to give 15,000 bottles.

A drop of water (about 1%) in the Chilean national product, but the oncologist, Fabian Munoz, 24, is a unique Troyer who seeks to improve by creating specific compounds.

“We do not want to lose this knowledge. The taste of the desert, volcanic rock and grapes is different. I taste the Atacama Desert +”.

Carolina Vicencio, 32, a chemist who works at the cooperative, explains that altitude and low atmospheric pressure, as well as the extreme heat range between day and night, make grape skins thicker.

“It creates high tan molecules in the skin of the grape, which gives the wine a certain bitterness (…) and high salinity of the earth (…) which brings mineralization to the mouth,” she says.

In his vineyard at the foot of the Andes, 43-year-old Samuel Varus finally planted Malbeck after experimenting with different varieties of grapes.

With his fellow agronomist, he realized that high levels of boron in the soil were killing his crops. “We realized two things: there is a grape variety called Malbeck, which has been modified, and the ones that have grown better are those that were under the carob trees,” he explains.

So they changed everything to Malbec, shaded the entire vineyard and fitted a drip irrigation system to use the meager 20 liters of water available per second as the snow melts in the Andes.

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Through these changes, they have doubled their annual production in the last three years and provided 500 kg of grapes to the cooperatives at the last harvest.

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