Jose Luís Gómez Bastías and Daniela Lorenzo – owners of small family winery González Bastías in Maule Valley – took time away from their harvest preparations to talk to team Indigo about their project, philosophy of respecting nature, and why they practice agriculture as a part of life and not just a business.
Chile’s grape growing heritage
Growing grapes is part of the culture in rural southern Chile, Daniela explained. Every house has half a hectare of vines, which some still make into a Pipeño wine for their own consumption. These backyard wines are often a mix of grapes, and are drunk light, young and fruity, like a Beaujolais Nouveau. The name came from pipa, the container the wine was traditionally kept in.
Chile has two wine stories, José Luis told us. One of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, brought over by French ‘refugees from phylloxera’ in the mid 19th Century, and financed by gentleman farmers who made their fortune in the mining industry. The other is of grapes like País, Moscatel, PX and Torrontes, which came over with the Spanish to make communion wine, and reached Chile via Peru.
José Luis is the 5th generation of his family to cultivate vineyards on the south bank of the Maule river, in an area called the dry coastline or ‘rulo‘. Unlike some of the larger landowners in Maule and Bio Bio, his family haven’t grubbed up or re-grafted their 200 year old País bush vines for more ‘popular’ international varietals.
A chance meeting
Enologist Daniela, the other half of González Bastías, isn’t from the south originally, after her studies she opened a wine bar in Santiago. One day a quiet guy from Maule came in with his wines for her to try. She instantly fell in love with the wines, and the story of this unique winery and its heritage vineyards. And after a couple of meetings she fell in love with the man – Jose Luís Bastías – as well! She moved south to Maule, and they now run the vineyards and the winery together.
They own five hectares of País and other Criolla grapes which José Luis’ family planted in the early 1800’s and have cultivated ever since. The vines grow on their own roots as Phylloxera hasn’t reached Maule. They think these un-grafted vines, with their roots reaching 15-20 metres below the ground through the sand, river sediment and granite, have a longer life than modern grafted vines.
The climate in Maule is perfect for viticulture: protected by the Coastal Range that runs from north to south along the coast from the top of Chile down to Bio Bio; they don’t get frost as they are close to the Maule river; and a cool afternoon breezes from the ocean, which is 40 kilometres away, ensure mildews and moulds are kept at bay. They farm organically to promote soil life, and work in harmony with the natural cycles. Their flock of sheep eat the grass between the vines; the droppings feed the soil; more plants grow which they cut to make compost, which adds organic matter and aerates the soil. A virtuous circle which some people refer to as permaculture.
A blend of old and new
José Luis’ grandfather taught him how to farm and look after these vines, but José Luis’ and Daniela are also trying new techniques. They have been exploring a method called Simonit&Sirch. The idea is that pruning to the vine’s natural growth shape, minimizing the amount and size of the cuts, and promoting the natural flow of the sap, helps improving the balance, minimizes disease on old wood, and extends the life of the plant.
They work in a traditional way in the winery, in fact in 2017 they had no electricity during harvest, so it was just as well they don’t employ lots of modern technology! They crush and de-stem the grapes on bamboo racks called zarandas. They ferment the grapes in open cement lagares, with manual punch-downs. Fermentation is spontaneous and lasts 10-14 days, and they don’t make any corrections to the juice. After this they rack the wines into old tinajas (clay amphorae) or traditional Chilean foudre made from native Rauli oak.
This project is truly a labour of love: living and working sustainably; looking after their land, its history and traditions for future generations. They practice agriculture as a part of life and not just a business, but don’t imagine this is a lifestyle project, the wines are alive, fresh and delicious!