Visiting Chile's wine regions
Part 4: Matetic, San Antonio Valley   

Matetic is one of Chile's most remarkable wine estates. It's a huge, hilly 16 000 hectare property, mostly consisting of eucalyptus and pine woods, but with three main agricultural products: sheep, blueberries and wine. It’s the wine that was the focus of our visit.

The Matetic family are of Croatian origin, and came to Chile 100 years ago. They began in Patagonia, at the southern tip of the country, where they have 100 000 hectares of land used for sheep and dairy farming. They also made a lot of money through ironwork, where they had a near monopoly. They bought the Matetic Estate in the San Antonio Valley some 20 years ago. The wine business was started in 1999, but it is only in 2008 that they made a profit for the first time.

As well as making some of Chile’s best wines, Matetic is gaining recognition because it is one of the few Chilean estates to have adopted biodynamics, a supercharged form of organics that is gaining ground in winegrowing. 120 hectares of vineyards have been planted to date, and the whole estate (not just the vineyards) is worked organically. The grapes are certified organic by BCS since 2004, and for the last couple of years the vineyards have been managed bodynamically. The goal is to become certified in due course.

We met with winemaker Paula Cárdenas (above), who has been heading up the winemaking here since 2006 for a tour, tasting and lunch.

Matetic is in San Antonio, the cool part of Casablanca, and just 20 km from the sea, so it benefits from sea breezes in the afternoon. There's a high diurnal temperature fluctuation – in the summer it can range from 27 C during the afternoon to 7 C at night. The low vigour soils are ideal for viticulture. They are well drained and the roots of the vines go down 2–4 m looking for nutrients. The soils are decomposed granite with 40–60 cm of friable clay on the surface.


I asked Paula how the transition to working biodynamically has gone. 'The main challenge is to understand the concept, to see everything,' she replied. 'In school everyone teaches you how the plant works and gives you the scientific view of viticulture, which is to decompose everything into small parts. You have to integrate and be able to see that everything is connected – to see holistically. Everytime I try to see more and understand more, it is more interesting’, she adds. ‘You never finish learning.’  

A short film of my visit

Composting is practiced here: cow manure, grass, grape skins and stems are used. Humid places are chosen for burying the cow horns, one of the more esoteric aspects of biodynamic farming. In the winter, the vineyards are weeded by alpacas, which is a nice Chilean touch. 

Paula reveals that there are plans to use horses to work the land, but to do this they need to get special equipment that’s very old. What about the biodynamic calendar? ‘At first we didn’t work  with it, but we’re now trying to implement this’, says Paula. She adds that, ‘If the owner says you have to be biodynamic, it is your job, but I actually believe in it. There are some things that are difficult to believe, but it is up to you: the main idea is to see everything as a whole.’

The Matetic winery was built in 2004 and currently processes 300 000 litres. Currently some 14 000 cases are released annually. Pauls reckons that the maximum capacity, which will be reached in 4 years, is likely to be 35 000 cases. All the grapes are hand harvested into bins, and there’s a selection table. The grapes are crushed and then taken to the fermenters by gravity. Open fermenters are used for the reds, with punching down and pumping over both employed. All the wines except for the Sauvignon Blanc go into barrel.

There are two ranges: Coralillo is a sort of second label, with the top wines labelled as EQ. UK availability: Genesis, Majestic, Oddbins and Wine Society.

Matetic EQ Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Made with the 242 clone which gives tropical and citrus notes, given a short skin maceration before pressing, and fermented in stainless steel. Some small stainless steel barrels (300 litres) are also used for work with the lees. Brightly fruited with sweet, rounded nose. The palate is bright with rounded fruit and high acidity. Really fresh, showing a nice juicy character. 89/100 (UK retail £9)

Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2006
14.5% alcohol. From two different sites: one is richer, the other more mineral. Fermented in barrels, 30% of which are new. Just 20% malolactic was used from 2007. Three different commercial yeasts with some wild yeast ferments, which Paula reckons add spice and onion notes. 1000 cases made. Rich toasty nose is smooth and oaty with some fig and tropical fruit notes. The palate is complex and broad with rich figgy, toasty, spicy, bready characters. Powerful and complex. 91/100 (UK retail £12)

Matetic EQ Pinot Noir 2006
14.5% alcohol. Massale selection, spending 10 months in oak, 30% of which is new. 1500 cases made. Delicious pure dark cherry fruit nose with a bit of tinned strawberry, too. Smooth, elegant palate shows lovely focus with deliciously elegant berry and cherry fruit. Nicely perfumed with a bit of spicy structure. 92/100 (UK retail £15)

Coralillo Merlot Malbec Reserve 2005
1800 cases made. Meaty dark fruits nose is brooding, with an attractive, leathery, spicy undercurrent. The palate shows lovely sweet dark fruit over the top of dense, earthy structure. Fantastically intense and well structured, in a brilliant savoury style. 93/100 (UK retail £12)

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006
1500 cases made. Brilliant Syrah: cool-climate pepperiness on the nose which is dark and fresh. Wonderful perfumed lush fruits combine with a lovely spicy, peppery edge. The palate is lush and richly textured with bright, fresh fruit and some meaty, chocolatey complexity. Nice tannins give grippy structure, too. 94/100 (UK retail £15)


Wines tasted 01/08  
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