2018 Roberto Henriquez ‘Fundo La Union’ Pais
Region: Itata < Chile
Grapes: Pais (aka Mission)
Vineyard/Cellar Stats: organic farming; 150+ year-old, own-rooted vines on decayed granite soils; semi carbonic fermentation in which tanks are covered with a piece of board and the natural C02 displaces the oxygen; 1 manual punchdown/day; bottle unfined/unfiltered with no added So2; 11.5% ABV; 66 cases
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.”
Roberto is a master of the Pais (aka Mission) grape, which he makes from several different parcels of varying ages (old and older) to show the range of this underdog varietal. He visited San Francisco a few months back, 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. While I loved all of his wines, this Fundo la Union cuvee, from 150 year old bush-trained Pais vines grown on the coast in Itata, won me over. Light-bodied, with bright cranberry, raspberry and dusty roses, a grainy, mineral angularity, soft tannins and a palpable saltiness, its soulful and delicious. And rare -- he only made 3 barrels (800 bottles or 66 cases), and we got the last 3 cases in California. Drink slightly chilled, with some Wilco tunes.