All The Sun In The World But Pedro Parra Wants Cloud. He'll Go To The Ends Of The Earth For The Right Soil.

All The Sun In The World But Pedro Parra Wants Cloud.
He'll Go To The Ends Of The Earth For The Right Soil.

Pedro Parra is a renowned soil and vineyard mapping expert with a Masters and PhD in Precision Agriculture and Terroir from the Institut Agronomique National in Paris. As a consultant to many well-known wineries across the world, the Chilean has spent much of the past 20 years discovering new sites, digging ‘calicatas’ (pits for soil analysis) and transforming the way wineries manage their vineyards. 

A calicata
However, he always dreamed of one day making his own wines from old Pais and Cinsault bush vines in his native Itata. A fantastic storyteller with a unique and fascinating career, Pedro told us, during last Thursday’s Liberty Wines online masterclass, about his own project and how he has used the knowledge and experience gained working in vineyards in Burgundy, Europe and the Americas to make his own low-intervention wines from the oldest wine region in Chile.

This renowned consultant is now, it appears, on his way to being a renowned winemaker. The desire to make his own wine took root in Burgundy while he was doing his soil studies in France. “It was in 2002”, he recalled. “I was extremely lucky, I knew nothing about wine when I stayed at a producer’s house. My palate was immediately and strongly influenced by the wines I tasted there.”

Then he started to wonder why Chilean wines were not as good, why they were so soft. “Why? Was it the winemaker? Was it the soil? What else? I figured it was a mix of everything.” “So, from 2004 to 2010, I worked hard as a consultant to open minds, to get people to look at other options, always with the idea to make my own wine, but where?”

“I knew where not to go, not Limari, not Elqui, not Casablanca. I wanted terroir with cloudy weather so I was looking to the south of Chile which has more wind, more cloud.”

And then there was the question of terroir. “Terroir has been very important in my career. Ninety per cent of the best wines come from just five different soils. Limestone is one. There is very little limestone in Chile but we do have fantastic granitic soil.” Again, the south fitted the bill.

“My grapes though were still a mystery and, in any case, my wines were to be about the place, not so much about the grape.” But he was drawn to two grapes. One was Pais, brought by the Spanish 400 years ago and widespread. The other was Cinsault, though that was grown only in one small town in Itata.
Pedro on screen from Conception last Thursday

He started in 2013. Not being a winemaker, he was not confident. “You don’t have the security,” he said. But then an experienced friend told him that not all good wines were made by winemakers and eventually he built up the confidence to make wines the way he wanted them made, once he selected the sort of granitic soil he required. He dug his calicatas and avoided clay. “Unless I have the  very best clay, I’d prefer not to have it all. Bad clay is horrible.”

“Little by little, I understand the plateau in Itata.”  And in 2013-15 he researched many plots to find the ones he really likes. “By 2016 I had found some places I now work, where I can apply my ideas. I use the horse, 2 or 3 times a season, to keep the soil in trim. It is not expensive, it’s a beautiful thing to do, I can go with the family.
A handful of quartz

Now he produces about 30 different wines. “My goal is a maximum of 5,000 cases. I don’t want to go more. Over that would be hard to control for our three person team. We are economical. Our destemmer is not new - you don’t need to spend €40,000 on a destemmer.”

“Great wines come from great terroir. Maybe I was too focussed on Burgundian methods at the start. It took me years to understand my method of extraction.” A tip from a Spanish winemaking friend put him on the right road with the extraction. He is getting the fruit and the wine he wants, the kind of wine he’d like drinking himself. “I am so happy. 2020 has been the best quality so far.”

I’ll be looking out for that 2020. I thought his 2018 “Vinista” was a cracking wine made from Pais. Colour is light to mid ruby. Wild red berries feature in the aromas, with herb notes in the background. Refreshing bright juicy fruit on the palate, a hint of spice too. String quartet rather than full orchestra, it is immediately harmonious right through to the engaging finalé. And this gem, the fruit sourced from 120 year old vines planted at 300 m above sea level, is one of the results of Pedro’s amazing dedication and expertise. The wine has spent one year in untoasted foudre and then spent 8 months in bottle before release. Time well spent!

As were the 90 minutes of that superb masterclass.

Links to Previous masterclasses in this current series, all recent: