The Science of Chilean Wine

Article excerpt

A HOOK TO GET students interested in visiting his laboratory, Fernando Cordova offers a course that's guaranteed to fire the imagination--wine making. But the Chilean scientist's real mission is to instill in his students a lifelong passion for studying and improving what has become in recent years one of his country's most important export products its increasingly excellent varieties of red and white wine.

Cordova, an agronomist and biochemist, is a member of one of the most exclusive research teams in the Americas, a group of about a dozen seasoned specialists headed by Dr. Yerko Moreno that analyzes every aspect of viticulture--the science of grape growing. The Grape and Wine Technology Center (CTVV) is part of the faculty of agrarian sciences at the University of Talca in the heart of the Maule Valley, one of Chile's most important winegrowing regions. (The CTVV is one of two such university based centers in the country; the other is associated with the University of Chile.)

The center works aggressively to improve the competitiveness of Chilean wines in overseas markets. Among its many functions are testing new technologies in wine making, studying vineyard water and canopy management techniques, and producing virus tested and genetically pure grape plant materials.

Training courses are also part of the center's mission, to keep employees at area vineyards up to date on the latest techniques. The CTVV employs DNA testing and other advanced methods to analyze purity, bud fertility, and virus resistance. And, when the finished product is ready for market, the center serves as the government's official laboratory for exported wine, certifying the alcoholic content, pH, acidic content, and other technical specifications.

Wine making has been a part of Chilean daily life since the first Spaniard colonizers arrived in the mid 1500s. Catholic priests established the first vineyards, soon followed by production on private estates. In the nineteenth century, immigrants from Prance, Spain, and Italy introduced European-style commercial vineyards The export trade with the U.S. began a century ago when Don Francisco Undurraga's family vineyard shipped its first cases of Maipo Valley red wine. Most Chileans agree, however, that until a decade or so ago, most of their locally produced wine was more suited for domestic tastes than for connoisseurs in Europe and the U. …


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