A letter of our Chief Winemaker about harvest 2020
Dear friends of Tabali, I am delighted to inform you that we have completed the 2020 harvest – the final Carmenère grapes came to the winery last week. This vintage will probably go down in history as the “strangest” ever for four reasons. Firstly the harvest was quite early. Secondly the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère had naturally low yields (-15% and -30% respectively). Thirdly, while warm vintages tend not to be the best, so far the wines this year are holding their own and showing outstanding qualities. Fourthly – and to my mind the thing that really qualifies this harvest as “strange”, to say the least – is the impact caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) during the harvest. Personally, I have never faced a health emergency of this magnitude either in Chile or anywhere in the world and for us to succeed in getting through such a complex and unexpected situation with the whole team in perfect conditions seems like a great achievement.
To date none of the people in the winery or their families has been infected, so we are really happy about that. It shows that the prevention measures implemented and people’s awareness about the need for self-care have paid off.
Across the winery we implemented a series of strict personal hygiene protocols and training sessions with the staff and we made it mandatory for them to use personal protection elements like latex gloves and masks, as well as disinfectant etc. We also put great emphasis on self-care and social distancing to ensure the health of our workers and their families.
Turning to the topic of the vintage itself, it was marked by above average summer temperatures, along with a certain level of water shortage in the central part of Chile. This all resulted in the harvest being brought forward (particularly in the Entre Cordilleras area of the Central Valley). In the beginning we saw this as less than ideal because warm years are not the best. However, looking at things pragmatically, I think that given the arrival of COVID-19 and all the disruption that came with it, the harvest being early was the best thing that could have happened. However, it was not just the higher temperatures that brought forward the harvest; the lower grape yields also impacted the date of harvest. The interaction between high temperatures and lower yields meant that this harvest was different and we anticipated good quality. However I think we were wrong, as the quality of the 2020 vintage is spectacular!
Over the years at Tabalí (this is my 14th vintage at this winery) we have been looking for our own style; one that brings out the maximum quality potential of our grapes, while always revealing the natural climate and soil conditions of specific places. This has resulted in more elegant, fresher wines, often with marked minerality, great character and terroir typicity. Each wine clearly reveals the climate and soil conditions of the place it comes from. This has been possible thanks to the soil studies which enabled us to identify the best parts of each vineyard, which we separately harvest and vinify and later bottle. We are currently harvesting quite early. We have divided the vineyards into sectors and are working with fewer kilos per plant, using different vinification techniques for each wine, buying the best quality barrels and so on. Also we are doing a very detailed, painstaking job and achieving far more outstanding results than we could have imagined a few years ago.
As I already mentioned, the quality of the 2020 vintage is excellent across all varieties. As Limarí is close to the sea, the climate is very stable in terms of temperatures, which do not rise too much in warm years like they do in the rest of Chile. However, what was most important in regard to the harvest being early was not the temperatures but that we were harvesting earlier. This means that the harvest was brought forward by an average of one week, while in other places it was up to 4 weeks earlier. The earlier harvest enabled us to produce very high quality wines that are special, mineral and fresh, with a lot of tension and ageing potential and also food-friendly.
In the DOM vineyard in Maipo, which is where we have our Cabernet Sauvignon, the location and south-facing exposure enabled the grapes to ripen really well and withstand the high summer temperatures without overripe or sunburnt fruit. This vineyard was planted in 1999, so it is now mature and you can see this in the balance in the vines, which are better able to withstand the more extreme climate and irrigation conditions than younger plantings. This week we harvested two weeks earlier than on average (which is not insignificant) but other areas of Maipo Alto harvested four weeks earlier. Because of its southern exposure, the vineyard receives lower levels of sunshine during the period prior to harvest. Furthermore, the breezes blowing in from the Pacific Ocean 50 km away up the gorge of the River Maipo provide good ventilation and help ensure that March is cooler in this area than in the rest of the valley. This means that the grapes ripen more slowly and the wines are ripe but fresh with delicious concentration and impressive tannin quality. Fortunately, this year the wines show these attributes and the quality is excellent.
To conclude, I particularly want to mention our Carmenère producers, with whom we have been working for many years. This was the variety most affected by lower yields this year, down by around 30% on average. Spring frosts and the high summer temperatures this year conspired against the quantity but, by way of compensation, the quality is very high. We have also been gradually bringing forward the harvest dates for Carmenère, as well as managing the canopy and irrigation in order to avoid the herbaceous pyrazinic notes so characteristic of this variety when it doesn’t ripen well. I think we have achieved a good balance in the vines and this is seen in the quality. 2020 will also be a very good year for the Carmenère wines because of their intense colour, delicious red fruit, full body and smooth tannins.
Felipe Müller East
CEO and Chief Winemaker