Fieldcraft and the Fieldcraft Bottlings

The Secano Interior, or dry-farmed interior, is the cradle of Chilean viticulture dating back to the 1500’s. Recent attention for wines from what are some of the oldest pre-phyloxera vines on the planet has led to interest and investment, but the machinations of the modern world do not always mesh with the gearing of the old.

Garage came to work elbow to elbow with small farmers ploughing the vines and cultivating the land for years now. We have built our small firm together.

It is important to note that the vignerons’ families have dry-farmed the Secano for a long long time — some since colonial times. Not just vineyards, but mixed farms of heritage seed wheat, free-range livestock, and local market gardening. Yet, as South American wine exports have boomed over the last quarter-century, it has grown increasingly difficult for these small growers to sell their grapes at a proper price.

After the earthquake in Chile in 2010 Garage developed a bootstrapping scheme to help some in the community rebuild. We began by investing in recuperating their Carignan vineyards. With help from Bibendum, [our UK importer], we went to work and we shipped the wines when they were ready– years later. Fast forward 8 years and in The Wine Advocate of Robert Parker, three of these old-vine Carignan vineyards were considered by Luis Gutierrez to be some of the finest wines made in Chile. The vineyards, once diamonds in the rough, lost in the Secano were proven to be capable of making some proper wine.

Unfortunately, this success is isolated. In the region today, modern buyers want more for less and they would have the small modernise: spray instead of cultivate, scale instead of focus, and above all, reduce the costs of labour. When the labour is precisely where you find the wisdom of farming passed down through the years: the Fieldcraft we have come to call it. 

Throwing away the opportunity for these hands to cultivate these grapes– that would be like throwing the baby away with the bathwater.

With the pushing aside of this wisdom of farming down the ages, proper farming and flavourful wine are being undermined. Huge new projects are being planted. Machine harvestable monocultures spanning 500 – 600 hectares where there is one crop, the vine, and the grower does what they can to kill or remove any other living thing. They offer work, but it is no longer necessary for workers to have experience, nor any particular connection with the land. They are hired by contractors far away and share long van rides with other hands from other towns. And when the new high-density plantings are ready, the mechanized work will be done by a skeletal staff operating machinery, and the locals—the veritable stewards of the vines all of these years will no longer be needed. 

In the Garage we think the wine trade is stronger with small farmers in it—and the wines too. In a world that wants more sustainably grown foods, these farmers have a 400+ year head-start. Never was this more evident than in 2017 with the devastating bushfires in Chile. A clear and present pattern emerged: the only firebreaks that stopped the spread of the forest flames were the small green cultivated farms of the vignerons. The first release of what we began to call “the fieldcraft bottlings” was the Phoenix Ferment Pais 2017— born out of the ashes as it were.

These would be wines that wouldn’t ordinarily get made, the grapes relegated to bulk because they are vineyards that defy the modern model of necessary scale, the practicality of harvest, proximity to transport, valid D.O. paperwork (Denomination of Origin)… … and so on.

In 2018 at the behest of our customers: Handpicked in Sweden and Bibendum in UK we continued our Fieldcraft efforts with Semillon- made amber with skins.

More recently with the COVID crisis we have realised the importance of hands having work closer to home without having to trundle tremendous distances across the countryside with other hands from other towns to work each day.

So we have begun work on another wine, red this time, to help farmers get through COVID working more safely closer to home. It is time to apply what they have learned across a broader base. The model that has proven successful not just for GWCo, but more importantly farmers, suppliers and customers. It is time to leverage this expertise towards greater change on the farm in these troubled times. We have Handpicked Sweden aboard already, and we are actively seeking a retail partner in UK and in the US to help us. If you are in the trade and interested in these bottlings we would like to hear from you. 

Why not take a minute and send us a note if you want to know more: 
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See more about Garage Wine Co’s Fieldcraft Bottlings in
the Wine Journal on Robert