A dream come true
When visiting Miguel Torres in Curico, Chili in February 2016 we discovered a wonderful piece of history about FairTrade. Secundina told us the emotional tale of her second chance.
The start of the Chilean viticulture takes us 500 years back in time. A group of brave Chileans braved the mountains and rivers to plant a new grape variety in Iquique. The variety, known in Spain as Listán and in the colonies of the new world as Misión, was given the name País in Chile. It was cultivated in the dry zones. For the most part under bad circumstances, through hard work and by a small group of dedicated farmers who had inherited the land from previous generations. When the French varieties were introduced in Chile in 1850, the País variety was set aside and over time completely forgotten about. An unsure future awaited everyone producing the variety.
During our visit concerning FairTrade in Chile, Secundina sat us down to tell us what that unsure future set into motion for the farmers. After a short drive through a breathtaking landscape and up a few little roads, we arrived at our destination: Esperanza della Costa. A little vineyard, hidden between a few hills covered with conifers and eucalyptus trees. The local Paìs-farming community welcomed us with open arms. Secundina, a member of the farming community, told us her story.
Following the death of her father, Secundina inherited the vineyard she had seen him pour his heart and soul into for so many years. It may not have had a high financial worth but its emotional value was huge. She wanted to be successful in farming the land no matter what. That didn’t go as smoothly as she thought, cleaning up the vineyards and cultivating decent grapes would require a lot of work. On top of that, there wasn’t a lot of money to invest and all the work had to be done manually. Besides all that there didn't seemed to be much interest in the País grape. That’s when Secundina discovered FairTrade: an organisation in Chile that wanted to support smaller farmers. They were working with farmers who had financial trouble but were capable to produce great products and wanted to sell them. It seemed like the perfect solution for Secundina and the others in the community.
She immediately started looking for other farmers that cultivated the País grape variety and proposed to form a union to sell the grapes as a group in association with a FairTrade organisation. She visited over 54 farmers in the area with her proposal and ultimately formed the union with 16 of those farmers. They set out to look for buyers but that turned out to be more difficult than they had originally thought. Everywhere they were told the same thing: “Your vineyards are situated too inconveniently and transport is even harder to arrange. It’s impossible.” Secundina protested this and tried to explain that there was a possibility to harvest and transport everything properly. There are easier things, but difficult doesn’t equal impossible. But it didn’t help, nobody wanted to work with them.
Secundina, now becoming desperate, decided to give it one last try and send an email to another FairTrade organisation hoping that herself and the other farmers would be able to keep their pieces of land. With the answer on that last email came their savior. Someone was interested in their grapes. Not just a few kilograms either, but everything they could produce! His name? Miguel Torres!
Secundina hadn’t heard of him before. But whoever he was, he was helping out a big group of strangers by trusting them and buying their produce. The union started organising the harvest and everyone helped one another. The vineyards were overgrown and everything had to be done manually. Even today, it is impossible to work the land with machines. Not only because of the location and the state of the vineyard but also because they simply can't afford the machines. After the harvest all the grapes were collected and weighed per vineyard and the weight was carefully registered to make sure every farmer collected the correct wage. Some vineyards in the union are so small they don’t fill up a complete truck. In total the farmers produce about 100.000 kilograms of the País grape and support 19 families. That is how things are still being done today.
With the earnings of the harvest they invest in their vineyards. This means investing in new grapevines to plant and buying materials to work the land as well as taking care of the elderly among them. According to Secundina they are numerous. The youngsters are moving to the cities to study and only a few of them return. Not many of them are interested in maintaining the old vineyards. But the farmers still believe in a better future and hope that they can persuade the next generations to stay.
Miguel Torres also believes in the future and therefor decided to join forces with the University of Talca in 2007 to propose a project to the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA). Its goal: to study and research, over a three-year period, the potential of the grape varietal País. At the beginning of 2008 it was decided to work with producers from Cauquenes, San Javier and Yumbel, a zone of small farmers in the VII and VIII Regions of Chile. Two years later, Miguel Torres Chile's enologist Fernando Almeda and his team took charge of the project choosing to use the traditional method and the same process of in bottle second fermentation used in the elaboration of Champagne to work with the raw materials.
This created a unique sparkling wine, 100% Chilean and obtained from 100-year-old grapevines, a reward for the land and its people. A dream come true for the farmers, and a new sparkling wine from the Torres family: Santa Digna Estelado Rosé!