House veg garden_kale_ winery

Since moving back to Itata Leo Erazo (Rogue Vine) has built a sustainable winery, and started planting some new vineyards close to the coast. I spoke to him about these, and the steps he’s taken to lower the carbon footprint of his wines.

“Together with the ‘granitic project’ which is in Guarilhue I found a place close to the coast, where there is a lot of slate. I’m very excited, you have the Pacific influence, the rock, it’s completely different to the other areas I’ve worked in Itat, there’s nobody to emulate. We’re not starting from zero, we’re trying varieties that work well on schist soils in Europe: Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, and a little bit of Pinot Noir to see how that works.

He started planting in 2017. So they have started to harvest grapes, but last year yellow jacket wasps ate almost everything. “We harvested 20kg out of the 1000 we expected. They originate from Europe so there aren’t natural predators in Chile”. Leo isn’t sure why they were such a problem this year, perhaps with the dry conditions there was less of another food source.

Building sustainably from the start

Leo explained that he’s worked at big wineries, and sometimes you can see that sales and marketing are the driving force for some viticultural and winemaking decisions. “But for smaller artisanal wineries like Rogue we are doing this because we love it. If you just want to earn money there are 100 more profitable businesses than making wine. It’s a work of love and of compromise”.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to work organically and sustainably, and this means all the way through. The first thing was to learn and understand how to be efficient in our use of energy. How we can generate our own energy and become self-sufficient, a lot of energy globally is made from polluting sources, charcoal or burning fossil fuels”.

“We built the winery to use the minimum electricity possible, and what we need to function comes from solar energy, we still have a network connection but we seldom use it, maybe after a run of cloudy days in winter, but we’re mostly 100% solar”.

The vegetable garden watered from captured rainwater and winery grey-water. Inside the winery constructed from recycled materials.

Nobody talks about water use

“The second thing was the use of water, we have reduced use from circa six litres of water per litre of wine, to 1.5 litre. Water is a scarce resource, but nobody talks about it, we don’t get rain for six or seven months of the year”.

“When people visit they ask how many sulphites I use but nobody cares how much water we use”!

“Wineries are always washing down, particularly those who use less sulphur! We collect water from the winery roof and the roof of our house. We have 57,000l storage tanks and a large pond, I don’t know the capacity, but it’s pretty big! We also created a system of wetlands to filter waste water from the winery. They have to clean the winery waste water to get rid of grape skin particles and lees, which are very reductive. We have made a system to oxygenate the water and keep it alive, the water filters through plants and sand. And we use this to water a new vegetable garden. We’ve made a small grassland, we work with a horse, it’s good to have grass for the horse during the dry times”.

“Now we have more water we’re making life around the water – water is life, it’s a straight line”.

“You see it in the wildlife as well, the insects and birds have increased exponentially. Species we’ve never seen here are coming because the ecosystem is here”.

A water storage pond, because they don’t use caustic soda or citric acid for cleaning, water is clean enough for his family to swim in!

Simple solutions come from observation

Climates and ecosystems vary greatly around the world so the steps Leo has been making might not apply directly in other countries, but I asked him if he had any advice for wineries looking to put sustainable practices into place.

“It comes from observation, the systems we have applied are not expensive or high tech. Of course it’s not going to be the same here as in Austria or Australia, but the principles are the same – if you have water and you want to keep it alive, you need to add oxygen through plants, then algae won’t grow and mosquitos won’t take over. It might seem difficult, but if we share information other people won’t make the same initial mistakes that I did. For example when I first collected water from the roof, I didn’t have a filter so I got dirt, dead lizards… in the water and it went off. Then I started to use a filter that cost £3, a cheap plastic thing, and I avoided that problem! Simple things, you just need to use your imagination.

“Another example, because we’re close to the Pacific, we channel the air currents that come at three to four in the afternoon on a hot day, it’s natural air conditioning, it cools everything down. We built the winery from recycled materials, corrugated zinc and old windows”.

“If one guy like me can do it, large wineries that earn millions of dollars per year, they can also do it”.

“Now more wineries are becoming organic, which is great, and it’s because the market is asking for it. So if the market, sommeliers, people in the wine trade also start to ask: where is your electricity coming from? The consumers can be the driving force to make the wineries change”.

Much of the winery is built from reclaimed materials.

I asked Leo about other steps he’s taking to be more sustainable.

Minimal packaging

“The first thing was the bottles, we work with lighter Burgundy bottles, supply has been a bit difficult over the last two years during the pandemic, we use the lightest we can. We don’t use a capsule, it means nothing, it’s just a dressing. And we’ve been working on the tape, for the boxes, to get one that is biodegradable. It’s small steps, but it makes sense”.

“You can’t be halfway with sustainability – be organic but use lots or water, use electricity from fossil fuels – it doesn’t work like that”.

On carbon footprint

A few years ago his Belgian importer was asking about the carbon footprint associated with shipping wine from Chile, when he could buy wine from ‘next door’ in France. “I was thinking about it. I work in Cahors, and I did a calculation, in Cahors farming organically, just for sulphur, we pass 14 times per season with a tractor to keep powdery mildew away. That doesn’t include other soil work and mechanical weed control. If you calculate how many kilometres the tractor passes to cover a hectare, we’re burning a lot of petrol, that’s a high CO2 output”.

“In Itata, everything is by hand, there are no tractor passes, so that’s zero output per hectare here. Which goes some way to compensate the distance travelled by boat of the wine coming to Europe”.

“Rogue just use a strimmer to cut their grass, they have a car, that’s their carbon inputs. The electricity is solar, then the transport of the wines to market”.

In praise of paperwork!

What’s the balance between doing the right thing, measuring that you’re doing the right thing, and making good wine?
“When I started doing the organic certification, for the first few years it seemed like so much paperwork. And I love spending my time on the farm rather than sitting at a desk. But by doing the paperwork it forced me to keep track of a lot of things I wasn’t keeping track of, and so helped me to improve things. So in the end, having this stack of paperwork I need to do – which is very painful it takes days – helps you to improve your system”.

“You think you’re doing the best you can, but it’s good to reflect and have controls”.

“Going through the process of certification was positive. Sharing information is important. I enjoy visiting other producers, sometimes you just talk, share a glass of wine, but you make connections which help your understanding. And what I enjoy most about wine is drinking it”!

That’s definitely a sentiment we can get on board with. Read about the new eminently drinkable Pét-nats Leo is making exclusively for Indigo. And learn more about the unique Itata region in: Leo Erazo’s journey towards sustainability. Part 1