Rising from the ashes
Derek Mossman Knapp follows a traditional garagiste style of winemaking in Chile with his Garage Wine Co. In addition to creating handmade, individual wines from the tiny parcels of small farmers, he’s no stranger to helping others triumph in the face of disaster.
Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Chile, Derek went on a mission to seek out old-vine Carignan in Maule. He discovered some amazing, but untamed vines, and worked with these local farmers to improve their vineyards and livelihoods, while using the grapes to make wine under his Garage Wine Co. label.
In January 2017, disaster struck again when the worst wild fires in Chile’s history ravaged the country. Derek explains, “The bushfires were not to do with the climate, but man’s poor use of the land. It was mother earth reacting to wanton and unregulated over planting of pine trees and misguided management by our forestry industry. There was simply not enough water for so many trees. In a few short weeks after the bushfires, streams that had been dry for years began to run, wells refilled and indigenous plants began to bounce back.”
Despite acres of land destroyed and the looming impact of smoke taint on ripening grapes, Derek decided to craft something beautiful out of the destruction. And so, on the heels of these fires – and quite literally out of the ashes – he created the first of The Field-craft bottlings, called Phoenix. This special, limited bottling white wine is a blend of Pais and Carignan, made with “whole-bunch pressing and little skin contact to get past the hurdle of a smoky year”.
The field craft
“For years we have worked in the Secano Interior with small farmers ploughing the vines and cultivating the land,” says Derek. “These vignerons have dry farmed the Secano for centuries, and not just their vineyards, but mixed farms of heritage seed wheat, free-range livestock and local market gardening. But as wine exports have boomed over the last quarter of a century, it has grown increasingly difficult for these small growers to sell their grapes at a bona fide price. Large buyers want more for less and they are pressuring the small growers to modernise: spray instead of cultivate, scale instead of focus, and above all, reduce the cost of labour.
“But it’s in the very labour where you find the wisdom passed down through the ages: the ‘field craft’, as we came to call it. At Garage Wine Co. we believe proper farming is being undermined by speculation. Livelihoods and flavours are threatened not by so-called ‘market forces’, but by a fundamental disconnect.
“Some will think that this makes us ‘soft’, but we think the wine trade is stronger with the small farmers in it. In a world that wants more sustainably-grown foods these farmers have a 400+ year head start. Never was this more evident than with the 2017 wild fires, when a clear and present pattern emerged: the only firebreaks that stopped the spread of the flames were the small, green, cultivated farms of these vignerons. “We created the Phoenix wine that year, for it was born of the ashes. It is an austere wine, with surprising acidity, a weighty mouthfeel and unexpected texture. It comes from three parts of different sites, like our Single Ferment series wines, and we produced less than 2,000 bottles.”
Supporting the small guys
With extremely limited production numbers, we have a mere 30 cases of Phoenix white available in the UK. Support of this project will go a long way to guarantee future work for Derek and the small farmers of Chile.