August 29, 2023 #Business & Exports

Animal grazing and night-time harvests: "Behind the scenes" of Chile's wine industry and its commitment to sustainability

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In an effort to face climate change and the needs of the future, Chilean wineries have adopted practices such as regenerative and circular agriculture. This will allow them to reduce their carbon footprint and water use, without sacrificing the quality of their grapes. 

The Chilean wine industry is currently one of the country's most important sectors, contributing 0.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) and making Chile the world's fourth largest wine producer. It is also an industry that, in recent years, has been able to incorporate respect for the environment into its production model, making significant efforts towards innovation and sustainability. 

As part of the collaboration between Fundación Imagen de Chile and Wines of Chile, we toured some of the sixth region's vineyards that exemplify this effort to care for the environment, together with the international press. 

Animal grazing and vermiculture techniques 

Faced with an increasingly adverse climate scenario, which is causing events such as droughts to become common phenomena, a few years ago, Viña Montes decided to begin adapting its vines to lower levels of irrigation, in a project called "Sustainable Dry Farming". By exposing the vines to low amounts of water, dependent mainly on rain, they have been able to prepare them to survive periods of drought. This has allowed them to optimize the amount of water used for irrigation, reducing it by 65%. 

The need to reuse water has also led them to adopt a "worm filter" system, a technique that uses bacteria and earthworms to eliminate contaminants from liquid industrial waste. The decontaminated water can thus be used for irrigation, and the humus that results from the process can be used as fertilizer for the vines. 

The use of vermiculture has spread to other wineries such as Viña La Playa, which now uses the technique both in its vineyards and its hotel. In order to avoid using chemical herbicides, La Playa also uses a grazing technique with around 600 sheep, which allows them to control weed growth and, at the same time, incorporate organic matter in the form of manure, regenerating the soil and capturing CO2. 

Among the main environmental initiatives that Viña La Playa is now promoting is the protection of Chile's coastline. They have been members of 1% for the Planet since 2020, an initiative whereby they donate part of their income for the conservation of the Pichilemu coastline. They are the first vineyard in Latin America to sign up to this initiative. 

Solar panels and sustainable architecture 

A number of industries are increasingly taking actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Viña Cono Sur, from Chimbarongo, is following this trend. Since 2007, the vineyard has been offsetting all the emissions associated with transporting its wines to destination markets, becoming the first winery in the world to obtain the Carbon Neutral Delivery certification.  

As part of its regenerative agriculture techniques, Cono Sur makes use of geese and biological corridors, planted with native species grown in their own greenhouses, to control insects and pests, and to enrich their soils. They also have a photovoltaic plant that has allowed them to reduce their energy consumption by more than 30%. 83% of their vineyards are now supplied by solar panels. 

64 kilometers from Cono Sur, in San Vicente de Tagua Tagua in the Millahue Valley, is Viña VIK, the third best in the world according to the World's Best Vineyards 2023. In addition to standing out for its ultra-premium wines and luxurious hotel, the vineyard now applies high sustainability standards. 

One example is their night-time harvests that are done by hand. This translates into a reduction in the consumption of energy that would otherwise be required to cool the grapes, optimizing the winemaking process. In addition, the vineyard has a cellar with reflecting pools that cool the barrel room naturally, part of their sustainably-designed architecture. 

In the search to create wines with a seal of origin, free of intervention, the vineyard also decided to make their own barrels under the "Barroir" concept. The barrels are made of staves imported from France, but toasted with Chilean oak collected from the Millahue forest floor. This gives the wine the authentic flavor of the Chilean land. 

These are a series of long-term commitments that demonstrate how Chilean vineyards are looking to a clean and sustainable future. 


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