Why and how wine producers are growing grapes in the world’s driest desert

Wine producers: In the center of Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest on the planet, Hector Espindola comes with an unpredicted job: he runs a winery.

Nearly 2,500 meters (8,000 ft) above ocean level, his small Bosque Viejo farm produces Muscat grapes – and the other of the unique “criollo,” or local, variety – within the shadow of quince, pear, and fig trees irrigated with a stream given by melting Andean snow.

Espindola, 71, farms within an oasis within the Toconao region in Chile’s extreme north – some 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) in the vineyards in the center of the world’s longest country which has rendered it among the world’s top ten wine exporters.

But growing grapes for wine within the desert – particularly the world’s driest – isn’t an easy task. Espindola contends with extreme day-night temperature fluctuations and extreme solar radiation on the top of wind and frost.

Wine producers

“You need to be dedicated. I water at night… at three each morning, eleven during the night,” Wine producers told AFP while caressing his vines, dry and brown two several weeks following the harvest.

“You need to be careful because here heat, the weather isn’t any joke,” he stated. “Sometimes it’s windy and production sheds, sometimes the frost comes early. It is complicated.”

Syrah and pinot noir from the highest vineyard in Chile

Espindola transmits his crop towards the Ayllu cooperative which since 2017 has gotten grapes from 18 small vineyards around Toconao.

In 2021, the cooperative received 16 a lot of grapes for any yield of 12,000 bottles. The harvest was better in 2022 using more than 20 a lot of grapes – enough for 15,000 bottles but nonetheless only a drop, at approximately 1 %, of Chile’s annual production.

Most contributors to the cooperative are people of indigenous communities who have been formerly individual, small-scale producers. Wine producers One of these, 67-year-old Cecilia Cruz, grows syrah and pinot noir grapes at an altitude of approximately 3,600 meters outdoors in the village of Socaire – Chile’s greatest winery.

“I feel special… to have this vineyard here and to produce wine at this altitude,” she said amid the vines that still sport a few bunches of wrinkled, dried grapes. But she has a bigger goal: “a future” for her three sons.

A taste of the Atacama

For Ayllu oenologist Fabian Munoz, 24, the mission is to produce a unique wine that captures the options from the volcanic rock where the grapes grow. “When the customer tastes an Ayllu wine (they ought to) think: ‘Wow! I’m tasting the Atacama desert’,” he stated.

Carolina Vicencio, a specialist in wine chemistry, stated that altitude, low atmospheric pressure, and extreme temperature fluctuations allow for a thicker-skinned grape. “This generates more tannin molecules within the skin from the grape which provides a particular bitterness within the wine,” she stated.

“There can also be greater salinity from the soil… making for a little mineralization within the mouth” which makes the Atacama desert wine unique.

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