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Friday, 23 June 2017 13:19

Carménère: a uniquely Chilean wine

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Marked by a singular history, this stock, originally from France, is today only produced in Chile, a country that provides unique conditions for its development. Ignored for years, today it is the spearhead for opening new markets for Chilean wine varieties.

The history of Carménère is very special. Recognized as the most complex of grapes iwhen it comes to achieving its maturity, this is because it suffered more than any strain from the effects of the phylloxera plague, which affected wine grapes in Europe between 1860 and 1870, and France in particular, where this strain comes from. The disaster was so huge that the French, tired of the complexities of its cultivation, decided to stop growing Carménère, and later it was thought that it had disappeared forever.

Ten years before this happened, however, some rootstock of this grape had been sent to Chile. As a result of the crisis that Europe was going through at the time, a large number of enologists emigrated from Europe to Chile, giving a vigorous boost to the emerging and already powerful Chilean winemaking industry.

Notwithstanding, and in spite of the mass presence of highly qualified professionals in the country, Carménère was ignored. The reason? Nobody noticed its presence and it was planted together with Merlot and Cabernet strains, so that for many years it was sold as one of these varieties.

She was young, spirited and rich. It was the 1970s and Kris McDivitt seemed to come straight from California central casting; the glamorous ski-racing daughter of an oil-industry man who made her fortune as the first CEO of what was to become the billion-dollar outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

And then in 1993, aged 43, Kris McDivitt unexpectedly fell in love with Doug Tompkins, the adventure-junkie rock-climber and deep green environmentalist who had co-founded not one but two giant outdoor-clothing companies, North Face and Esprit.

They married (she changed her surname) and the eco-power couple cashed in their shares and uprooted from California to live the wilderness dream in the real Patagonia where they went off-grid, flying between homes in the forests and mountains of Chile and Argentina.

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