2019 Roberto Henriquez Rivera del Notro Valle del Bio-Bio Blanco
Region: Itata < Chile
Grapes: Muscat of Alexandria, Corinto (AKA Chasselas), Semillon
Vineyard/Cellar Stats: organic farming; 90+ year-old, own-rooted vines on decayed granite soils; whole berry, open-top fermentation in stainless steel tanks, with free run juice fermented separately from pressed juice, then the juice stays three months on the skins, 80% stainless steel / 20% in old barrel; bottle unfined/unfiltered with <25ppm added So2; 12.3% ABV
Winemaker: Roberto Henriquez
Natural wine in Chile is not yet a thing, but there is a small but mighty group of producers working to change that. And there is a history to look back upon - in areas like Bio Bio, Itata and Maule, wine has been made for centuries, vineyards are old AF (100-250 years), OWN-ROOTED and made without chemical farming or interventions (mostly because farmers here were too poor to adopt that stuff). So this new movement is more about wine identity reclamation and finding the traditions before they’re lost, more than riding the natty wine wave. Roberto Henriquez is a young producer in Itata leading the way. Along with 3 other producers including RJ fave Manuel Moraga of Cacique Maravilla, he created la Asociación Gremial de Productores de Vinos Campesinos de Chile (Trade Union Association of Rural Winemakers of Chile), with a manifest of working only with local grape varieties in a low-intervention manner. Roberto says, “I work this way due to a love of traditions that are fast disappearing. There is nothing more beautiful than following the cycle of the earth which changes constantly, and seeing each season reflected in honest, real wines.”
Pre-Covid, Roberto visited San Francisco and I had the pleasure of sitting and tasting through all of his wines in my backyard. He’s a soft-spoken, humble man who is passionate about reclaiming Chile’s history of quality winemaking. His entire zero-zero range of mostly light red Pais wines is fantastic, but this skin-contact white was a delightful surprise. While it spends 3 months on the skins, the color never goes orange, nor does it take on visible tannins. Instead, the skins provide a lovely texture, and more nuanced floral notes. Muscat produces its classic aromatic fireworks, but it is refined and delicate on the palate, with white flowers, stone fruits, bitter almond and a fine steely structure, laced with vibrant acidity. No white wine palate fatigue with this seductive little number.