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Today we are excited to bring you the whole lineup from Chile's foremost biodynamic winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza of Antiyal. Alvaro and his wife Marina founded Antiyal in 1996 to teach their children about the cycles of the earth and farming. "Antiyal" is a Mapuche word that means "sons of the sun," in honor of Alvaro's use of the cosmos in his biodynamic practice (more on that later).
Considered by many the first "garagiste" in Chile, Alvaro has a 20-hectare farm in the Andean foothills of the Valle del Maipo. Among his many honors, he was the first person to bottle Carmenere under a name representing what it was instead of Merlot (he called it Grand Vidule, an 18th century Bordelais peasant name for the grape. Cabernet Sauvignon having been called Vidule and Cabernet Franc having been called Petit Vidule).
In the foothills of the Andes, at 800 meters, Alvaro has planted 10 of his 20 hectares to vines. The rest is a fully functioning Demeter-certified biodynamic farm. Over lunch at Colonia Verde in Ft. Greene recently I was able to hear Alvaro describe his relationship with biodynamics, which I found to be fascinating. He mentioned three major aspects of biodynamic farming that attracted him to it.
First, he was interested in the organization of the farm that was required. As he said, "A farm should have very low input. Bring in as little as possible from outside. For instance, conventional drip irrigation makes fruit from all the different parcels taste the exactly the same. You should never try to change the specificity of a place." For Alvaro, having animals is extremely important to this idea of low input. His own livestock provide him with all his manure. He laments that industrialization has essentially eliminated farms that have both animals and plants, yet they feed off of each other, and gain sustenance from each other, and so it is best for them to be side by side.
The second aspect of biodynamics to which he was drawn was the importance of the rhythms of the cosmos. He notes that to all ancient agricultural communities in Mesoamerica cosmological calendars were of primary importance. In Chile, following the rhythms of the sun and moon and stars does not sound strange. All old farming practices were based on this. Alvaro gave an incredible example: "The moon goes from tropic to tropic on the same cycle as the sun does, but instead of taking six months it only takes six weeks. In Chile, if you prune when the moon is over the Tropic of Capricorn you will lose more sap than if you prune with the moon over the Tropic of Cancer. Thus, the moon dictates when you should prune: do you want a heavy prune or a light prune?" He noted that animals and plants everywhere have deep relationships with the cosmic calendar. An example he gave was that coral only releases its spores one night a year: the first full moon after the summer solstice.
Lastly, Alvaro was intrigued by the herbal preparations, which he believes do a lot to enhance the health and quality of the vineyard. He said, "Yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, valerian, dandelion: each herb interacts specifically with an element and a constellation." These herbs and teas made from them are beneficial for the farm as a functioning body. Compost, for instance, is a form of digestion. The herbs you would use to settle your stomach will also settle and support microbial life in your compost, which allows for animals and plants to work more efficiently in symbiosis.
Alvaro's wines express this deep learning and his unique approach by singing of the place they are from. All reds, we offer today his Pura Fe 2016 Maipo Carmenere and the Pura Fe 2016 Maipo Cabernet, both fresh, elegant wines made with a minimum of new oak to express the fine character of the area. The Carmenere is full of mint and dark fruit, the Cabernet being rounder, richer, and softer. We also have the 2015 Kuyen, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet, and Carmenere. Kuyen is the Mapuche word for the moon, and this cuvée is his homage to that cosmic body and its influence on the farm. Darker and richer, with an extraordinarily lush nose, this wine is dense and soft and dark. Lastly, we have the 2013 Antiyal, named, as mentioned, "The Children of the Sun," an incredible counterpoint to the lunar expression of Kuyen, Antiyal is the same grapes in a different blend: more red fruit and a touch more structure, sapid, yet bright. Lastly, the 2016 Antiyal Carmenere, a pure expression of Carmenere from the same parcel. Huge, ageworthy, with great breadth and dazzling elegance, this is perhaps the most compelling, pure Carmenere I've ever had: less oak than many Bordeaux-style Chilean Carmenere, more structure, with incredible minerality. Fermentation is in stainless steel and elevage is in concrete egg, to preserve as much of the character of the vineyard as possible. Suitable for long aging in the cellar, Alvaro claims it is at its most beautiful 8 years after the vintage. I hope you enjoy these exciting biodynamic wines from the Southern Hemisphere! Andrew Farquhar
This is the original wine in the Antiyal lineup, a blend of 49% Carmenere, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Syrah. Spontaneous fermentation is followed by almost a month of maceration before being racked to concrete egg for aging and malolactic fermentation. After 12 months the wine is bottled and then kept in the cellar for six months. Big and bold, this wine has fantastic bright red fruit accompanied by some earthier tones of leather, pencil lead, and a note of musk. The mouthfeel, as with all of Alvaro's wines, is an extraordinary admixture of lush roundness and sprightly acidity. Drink until 2025. Andrew Farquhar
This 100% Carmenere from the same parcel as the regular Antiyal is one of the greatest of all Chilean wines from one of its greatest producers. Huge and powerful on the palate. With fine-grained tannin and electric acidity, this wine was built for the cellar. What sometimes comes across as greenness in Carmenere is sublimated into a gorgeous perfumed charred-meat, black pepper character. Fine dark fruit is elegantly presented on pillows of textural finesse. Aged in concrete egg for a year before bottling, and kept at the estate another six months. Drink now until 2035. Andrew Farquhar
Carmenere, Chile's flagship grape, has an excellent expression here at a fantastic price. Biodynamic grapes are manually selected and then crushed, with the tanks filling slowly due only to gravity. Spontaneous fermentation with a soft pump-over is followed by 25 days of maceration. Aging in 3- and 4- year old French barrels for 10 months produces a fine, structured red. Darker fruit is enveloped in a cascade of herbal notes. Tight energy, fine tannic structure, and good acidity make a wine that is full-bodied but not massive. Andrew Farquhar
Unfined and unfiltered, this wine sees spontaneous fermentation and 10 months in used French oak. Riper, rounder, and softer than the Carmenere, it still has great energy. Like much Maipo Valley wine there is an intrinsic herbacity, almost eucalyptic, that sits at the front of the nose. That cooling character transitions delicately into fine dark fruit. This wine has fine structure and would go well with herb-crusted game or lamb. Andrew Farquhar
Kuyen means "moon" in the Chilean Mapuche language. 65% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Carmenere from basalt soils, this is a deep, round, dense wine packed with blueberry, chocolate, plum, a hint of smoke, and a cooling herbal aroma. Fermented in stainless steel and aged for 12 months in used French oak, with no fining or filtering. Textrually lush, this wine retains great energy but envelopes it in a haze of unctuous texture. 14,000 bottles produced. Andrew Farquhar