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Winemakers Take a Walk on the Wild Side (With Yeast)
“I was at an incredible dinner made with all Chilean ingredients, including edible flowers,” says Cristián Vallejo, winemaker at VIK Winery in Millahue, Chile, of the moment he had an epiphany on wild yeast. “It was so exciting to taste how all of the elements came together, creating complex flavors. I started thinking about how I could create a wine that was completely from our estate, without anything from outside of our vineyards and fields.”
That led to a deep examination and transformation. VIK Winery now ages wine in amphorae sourced from clay found on the estate, and in barrels toasted with fallen wood from the estate.
“We have a 4,000-hectare [9,884 acres] private park, and most of the estate is untamed fields filled with wildflowers,” Villejo explains, adding that only 10% of the estate is under vine. “Flowers, I discovered, have an extremely high concentration of wild yeasts, and a wide variety of them, too.”
Villejo decided that, by bringing in a sampling of the flowers from all over the estate, drying them and creating a tea that they could spray on grapes in the field, they could impart terroir through flowers — fleuroir — to the wines.
“Already we have discovered two new yeasts present on the grapes that come in that were not present before,” he says, adding that VIK partnered with the Universidad Católica de Chile on a study.
The 2022 vintage was the first to include fleuroir in VIK’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc, and Villejo says he detected a new level of complexity, elegance and expressiveness in each of them.