(Chimbarongo, Chile) The bicycles progress slowly in the stony paths, between the sections of vines, stopping here and there for a few explanations.
The bicycle is more than just an emblem displayed on the bottles of the Bicicleta range of the Chilean house Cono Sur. This vineyard offers guided tours on two wheels, a historic nod to the days when workers used it to get to the field.
It is also an ecological statement for the company which makes environmentally sustainable production its “main pillar” and which is the second largest organic wine producer in Chile.
Visitors will therefore not be surprised to come across a horde of geese wandering freely around the estate, gobbling up small insects harmful to the vines – except during the few months before the harvest, to prevent the precious grapes from ending up in their throats.
“They are very useful for successful ecological management,” and their droppings naturally enrich the soil, says Soledad Meneses Pastén, winemaker turned head of communications and wine tourism for the company.
Cono Sur has nine sites in Chile, totaling 1,400 hectares of vines, but it is at Chimbarongo, some 150 kilometers south of the capital Santiago, that it receives visitors.
It’s “the most beautiful” of all, with its imposing mansion built around 1900, and it’s where all of the company’s winemaking is concentrated, says Ms. Meneses Pastén.
The building houses the boutique and the tasting room, where imposing wicker lampshades are suspended, a material whose production also makes Chimbarongo famous.
Pinot Noir occupies a large part of the 300 hectares of the Cono Sur estate in Chimbarongo, located at the entrance to the small town, near an abandoned station which was used, in particular, to ship the estate’s production.
“It’s our specialty,” said Soledad Meneses Pastén, who gave La Presse a tour of the site on a cool September morning, when the estate still seemed numb from the ending austral winter.
To carry out a traditional vinification as it is done in Burgundy, Cono Sur uses the expertise of French winemaker Martin Prieur.
In addition to her 300 geese, along with a few ducks and chickens, Cono Sur has a small nursery where she grows plants that she uses to control invaders.
This evergreen tree—which doesn’t lose its leaves in winter—is nicknamed the soap tree because it was used in the past to make a cleansing concoction, she says: “It made the hair very shiny!” »
However, it is because it is a native tree in Chile, adapted to its environment, that the company favors it to restore a biological balance on its estate, specifies Ms. Meneses Pastén.
As with other businesses and people in the country, the drought that has plagued Chile for nearly 15 years is complicating matters for Cono Sur, which is now owned by Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro.
However, the domain can count on a fitted out basin allowing to accumulate the water which descends from the Andes cordillera, in particular during the melting of the snow.
“We’re able to get enough water for our needs, but we have to use it very, very carefully,” says Soledad Meneses Pastén, noting that the irrigation system is powered by solar electricity, among other things. .
The estate has 600 kilowatts of installed solar power, which meets some of its electricity needs, and the rest is purchased from renewable sources — not all electricity sources in Chile are renewable — the estate says. ‘business.
Guided tours, with tasting of course, run Thursday through Sunday, year-round; they are held in Spanish, but it will be possible to do them in English by reservation from May – their price ranges from 20,000 to 30,000 Chilean pesos (the equivalent of 33 to 50 $ CAN).
The small abandoned station that adjoins the estate has not seen a train pass for a few decades, the easiest way to get there is by car.
However, it is possible to take the train or bus to the nearby town of San Fernando, then travel the rest of the way in an old, worn minibus, as the locals do, and as the said La Presse — being able to communicate in Spanish is however necessary.
Many of the wines produced by Cono Sur are available at the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), as well as the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation (ANBL) and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).