Winemaker Cristián Vallejo on “Barroir” and the Challenges of Sustainability

Christian Vallejo Portrait
Image Courtesy of VIK Winery

Combining natural, biodynamic and organic farming practices, VIK Winery has been committed to wine sustainability since it first opened in 2014. Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Millahue, Chile, the state-of-the-art facility sits on 11,000 acres in the Cachapoal Valley.

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Walking toward the entrance of the modernist structure, guests will walk atop the “mirror of water”—just as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional, since this exterior walking path doubles as the roof to the barrel room, the water a natural form of temperature moderation.

Inside the main facility, the glass floor overlooks the vines.

The Chilean winery produces four estate wines, all Bordeaux-style blends, using science and technology to enhance the farming and winemaking process without any chemical intervention. In addition to their tech-savvy tools and dedication to sustainability, VIK also makes their own amphorae from the clay in their vineyards—a nod to Old World winemaking tradition and a technique said to further celebrate their Chilean terroir—and have even developed their own line of barrels using Chilean oak.

Head winemaker Cristián Vallejo, a Chilean native, has been making wine for decades. Prior to VIK, he worked in Napa, Spain, Italy and Bordeaux. He sat down with Wine Enthusiast to discuss what sustainability means to him and the efforts the winery is taking to remain sustainable.

Can you explain VIK Winery’s holistic approach to viticulture and winemaking?

We always say that we can’t develop the identity of a wine without seeking to understand and follow nature’s cycles, which are so dynamic and face unique challenges each year. This is why we started by doing soil studies to enable us to identify the details to ensure optimal planting in terms of irrigation, sun and the coastal winds.

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In some areas we even discovered micro-soils that not only give a unique touch to the blend, but also let the grapes express themselves completely. So, through our search for details, we are able to generate a better overall result.

How has climate change impacted your farming practices and what have you done to mitigate those effects?

Climate change is a reality that all of us in the industry are having to face in different parts of the world. In our case, water management must be highly efficient and, at the same time, we have to be able to maintain the style of our blends.

We’ve brought forward the date of harvesting in order to retain the ripeness, aromas and the right level of acidity, while obtaining the fineness and elegance that we are aiming for. In this way, we let the tannins reach maturity without losing their character.

You’ve recently started creating wine barrels from estate Chilean oak. Why is this so important to VIK Winery?

We have developed a unique concept: “Barroir,” which is the perfect match between the terroir and the barrel. We toasted our barrels using the wood from our oak trees to bring the flavor of the terroir and integrate it into the barrel.

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In this way, centuries of history from our trees permeate through to the wine. By using these barrels we aim to showcase the unique DNA of Millahue and our blends while taking the circular economy into account in the process.

How much, in your opinion, do consumers care about VIK’s sustainability efforts?

Our consumers are interested in the topic of sustainability, but they are looking for something more. They ultimately identify with the winery’s purpose, which is to be among the producers of the world’s finest wines while making mindful use of nature’s resources and maximizing the efficiency of our processes so that they have the least possible impact on the environment. We take care of every square meter of our land so that it is not only of use today, but will continue to be fruitful in the future. When it comes to production, we use lighter-weight bottles and pure, minimally intervened corks.

In winemaking, we are seeking perfection, but it can’t be at the expense of everything else or our terroir. Instead, we try to enhance each element so that, as a whole, we achieve the best result.

This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Published on September 19, 2022
Topics: Sustainable WineriesWinemakers