Vignadores de Carignan
Derek Mossman Knapp wrote on Monday in Maule – slow recuperation about how he spent his Geoffrey Roberts travel award. Here, in the form of a Q & A, he describes the most concrete result of his attempts to re-evaluate Maule’s old Carignan vines.
How did Carignan find its way to Chile?

The majority of noble varieties from France and Spain came to Chile in the early 1800s to fuel the desire of wealthy cosmopolitan Chileans to establish vineyards, gardens and country homes to rival their relations and friends in Europe. Carignan and other Mediterranean varieties were never singled out to make flagship wines (because in Maipo the climate was not conducive) but they were imported to Quinta Normal, the University of Chile laboratory, and according to somewhat spotty documentation, then found their way further south.
It was not until the challenge of rebuilding after the earthquake in Chillán in 1939 that Carignan received any recognition and a concerted effort was made to plant the variety as part of the rebuilding of the principally agriculturally based economy of the region.
Wine growers in this, the original cradle of Chilean viticulture, had grown rustic Spanish varieties since the 16th century, both for the domestic market and to spread the faith through Catholic evangelism. By the 1930s viticulture in the Maule was dependent on the País, or Mission, variety that was being dry-farmed and head-trained in the Mediterranean tradition.
The quake of Chillán in 1939 (that claimed tens of thousands of lives) wreaked havoc and brought the wine industry to a standstill. It was a time for rethinking as well as rebuilding. In the early 1940s, the Department of Oenology of the Ministry of Agriculture proposed encouraging the planting of Carignan to improve the characteristics of the region’s wines. With its higher acidity, the Carignan would lend colour, structure and above all freshness to the popular wines of the Maule, it was thought. The nascent CORFO or Corporacion del Fomento de la Producción, born in 1939, would play a key role in funding this work as part of its widespread efforts to get the region back on its feet, and sowed the plantings, if not the seeds, of today’s renaissance 70 years later.
But if that was 70 years ago, why have these vines not been made into wine before now?

Carignan grew for a half-century in field blends with other varieties on the hills and dales of the Maule without anyone taking much notice or interest. It was blended with other varieties into the humble jug wines that would quench the thirst of locals in the region for decades. Why didn’t it become a stand-alone wine? Let’s be honest: young Carignan has never been known for its charm or elegance. Carbonic fermentation and the like were not common practices in Chile at the time. And so the Carignan vines aged like a sleeping giant based upon its wine’s ability to blend in.
In the 1990s various Chilean winemakers began realising the potential that the now old-vine Carignan offered. Naturally dry-farmed for 50+ years by this point, its fruit could produce characterful wines with a keen identity that were particularly suitable for ageing and demonstrating complexity.
Technically speaking, Chile might have produced these wines 20-30 years ago, but back then the export industry was young and focused on more popular varieties and styles that were market-proven by other New World producers. The Maule at that time was very much maligned, considered to be the workhorse source of simple wines.
Two decades later, much has changed. Francesco Marone Cinzano arrived and developed La Reserva de Caliboro, José Manuel Ortega of O Fournier developed his Chilean winery in the Maule, and one need only look at the number of wines within MOVI that come from the Maule to realise how much this image has changed and how dynamic the Maule has become.
What precisely does Vignadores de Carignan mean? And what is a Vigno?

Vignador stems from an old distinction accorded to men who cultivated the vines for the crafting of wine, who were called viñadores. The phonetic similarity in the pronunication of the Spanish character ñ and the gn of Carignan led the group to apply poetic licence, replacing the ñ with the letters gn. The result: Vignadores de Carignan.
It is an old word in Spanish not used very often today. It refers to the one who works the soil – not the patron living in the distant capital. He is the one who ploughs the soil and tends to the vines – like vigneron in French. It is a good fit because getting this project off the ground has taken and will continue to take a lot of hard work. The associative nature of the project and the sharing of a common name is something new for Chile and there is nothing armchair or boardroom about this project or this group. This is Chile’s first real appellation wine, in the sense that the regulations are so detailed (see below).
Vigno is the name that the group has chosen to use in common that signifies dry-farmed old-vine Carignan from the Maule. Again it originates with the rescue of the gn of Carignan and inserting it into the word vino (wine). It is pronounced ‘veenio’.
There are other examples of vintners grouping together. The Vignadores stumbled upon them only when our plans hade been made and our sails set, but Cadenzia, the Grenache producers of McLaren Vale in Australia, and Pannobile in Austria are based upon similar principles.
How much Carignan is there in Maule?

The most referred-to figure I have heard is 584 hectares. Note that the entire production of the VIGNO made by all producers today could be made with less than 50 ha.
Vigno is much more than Carignan. These old vines are imbued with the spirit of the traditional farmer of the Maule with his powerful weathered hands that have been pruning, ploughing and harvesting these vines for generations. There is a noble yet humble spirit with a strong character and work ethic here in the people in the Maule. The techniques of ploughing and dry farming have been passed down from father to son for almost 400 years. The vines are a kind of living museum of a foundational piece of Chilean viticulture. They are a living piece of Chilean patrimony.
Who are the original or founding member wineries?
Bravado Wines, De Martino, Garage Wine Co, Gillmore, Lomas de Cauquenes, Meli, Miguel Torres, Morande, Odfjell, Undurraga, Valdivieso, Viña Roja (see their representatives below).


The first officials are:
President – Andrés Sánchez
Vice President – Pablo Morandé
Secretary – Rafael Urrejola
Treasurer – Dean Harbar
Directors – Derek Mossman, Eduardo Brethauer, Felipe García
Why form the group? Why does the Chilean industry need Vignadores de Carignan?

It has taken almost three years to form Vignadores, today a legally constituted trade organisation. These 12 wineries, and a handful of others who will no doubt integrate soon, patiently dedicated a space in their cellars to develop a wine without a name or a shipping date. Remember that during this time the region suffered another colossal earthquake. And with history repeating itself, the renaissance began.
This is Chile’s first appellation wine and one, important, missing piece in the rich mosaic that is Chilean wine.
If this is an appellation wine, what technical restrictions define Vigno ?

Variety: Carignan – minimum 65%. The remaining 35% must be dry-farmed, old-vine fruit from the Maule.
Vineyard age: 30 years minimum.
Irrigation system: None to speak of – only strictly dry-farmed vines allowed.
Vine training: Head-trained, bush-head or goblet.
Ageing/crianza: Minimum 24 months in barrel and/or bottle. Barrels need not be new and may be substituted by tinajas/amphorae.
Origin: the Maule
You mention the Maule many times rather than Maule Valley. Why is that?

Maule Valley is a geographical territory that was superimposed years ago onto the wine industry in order to divide Chile into convenient horizontal slices. Unfortunately, these valleys that run from the Pacific coast to the mountain peaks contain widely varying terrain and terroirs and this has often made it difficult for clear differentiation or regionality to be recognised in the wines. These valleys are now being subdivided, vertically, and this will make for more divisions and subdivisions, and greater specialisation in planting/grafting will help too. Yet no one seems to be asking whether there already exist styles, histories or types of wine produced within these divisions. Carignan is only one example. Pajarete from the north is also now being rescued, and I am sure there are other examples.
With the Maule or the Secano Maulino, dry-farmed Maule old-vines, things are different. Here there exists a recognisable origin. I am sure that when trade and press try this group of wines together it will become apparent that Vigno has regionality and character and . . .  to answer the question, yes I like to refer to the area that these wines (rather than some arbitrary lines) define as ‘The Maule’. It has a ring doesn’t it? ‘The Maule’ like ‘The Glenlivet’ or ‘The Macallan’. I hope it catches on.

Tags:  Chile


Co-proprietor Garage Wine Co Chile. Wine made by hand, naturally, in small lots. Little manipulation practised in the cellar and little censorship here.

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