Winemakers explore the potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Chilean Polynesia – and research wild vines discovered growing in a volcano
A new wine frontier is being explored in Chile, thanks to a 2ha vineyard established on Easter Island. Also known by its native name, Rapa Nui, the island lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in Chilean Polynesia, 3,540km from the coast of Valparaíso and 4,231km from Tahiti.
The vineyard, planted with 3,500 Chardonnay vines and 3,500 Pinot Noir vines, was set up by a group of entrepreneurs, led by agricultural engineer and winemaker Alvaro Arriagada. Other partners in the project are Poki Tane Hao Hey and wine consultant Fernando Almeda, with support from Cristián Moreno Pakarati, a historian from Universidad Católica.
‘Rapa Nui has a subtropical climate, volcanic soils and is strongly influenced by the cold Humboldt current, which differs from the islands located in French Polynesia,’ says Arriagada. ‘With colder waters and less extreme temperatures with lower levels of humidity, it indicates that the growth of the vines for winemaking purposes could develop successfully.’
Rano Kau Volcano vines
Local research proved that vines were first introduced to Rapa Nui by French settlers from Tahiti in French Polynesia. These early vines were planted inside the Rano Kau Volcano, along with bananas, mangos and avocados. Offering protection against the windy conditions on the island, the volcano provided suitable conditions for fruit and vine cultivation.
The vines flourished, as Arriagada and his team discovered when they followed a trekking trail from the base of the volcano to the interior. Inside the crater they found wild vines climbing among the large volcanic rocks.
‘We cut 300 vinestocks from the wild vines found inside Rano Kau Volcano, in different states of growth and maturity, some producing grapes,’ explains Arriagada. ‘We have set up a nursery to evaluate the adaptability and growth. The next challenge is to carry out an ampelography study to find out what the varieties are.’
The nursery is located next to the new vineyard, 8km north of Rano Kau in Pu Ika ta’e Hape. The land chosen for the vineyard site has loam and light soil with a good level of organic matter.
‘I am very excited about this challenge, especially considering the unknown vegetal material and the extreme climatic and soil conditions that generate technical uncertainty – which is something difficult to find after 35 years of experience [working with vines],’ adds Almeda.