Meet the winemaker: Viñedos Herrera Alvarado


5 min read

Viñedos Herrera Alvarado is a winery in Chile's Marga Marga province in the region of Valparaíso, run by Carolina Alvarado and Arturo Herrera. They work 2 hectares of biodynamic grapes that haven't been irrigated for many years, is just 15km from the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by forests.

We spoke to Arturo after including one of his wines in our selection for RAW WINE Club. This was our conversation.

Can you tell me about your background and how you became winemakers?

Where we’re based used to have a lot more wineries, but over the years, local traditions were lost. When we decided to make wine, we wanted to learn from the old winemakers, about how they made wines with indigenous varieties some hundred, two hundred years ago. These wines were always made in harmony with nature, the environment and its people using techniques passed down from generation to generation. It’s what we now call natural wine, but it was just wine that was made to be shared with family and friends on weekends. 

We’ve always lived in the area and have been making wine in the same way for 20 years. We didn’t want to use modern, violent oenology and the life that comes with it. We chose to use the techniques of our grandparents who made wine in their houses, surrounded by vineyards. We want to work in a way that takes care of nature and our community at the same time, and maintains local traditions. We make wine for everyone and share it with friends who, in turn, share their ideas and recipes. Everyone contributes to the community in different ways.

At first, we rented a vineyard. Then we were able to buy an abandoned 60-year-old plot that had been planted with French strains and that we then planted with some Spanish strains. We work regeneratively and have also planted native grape varieties like Cristal, a strain that adapts really well to our soil, Pink Muscatel and Alexandria. All these strains are more resistant to drought and more generous in their production.

Has the Chilean natural wine scene evolved since you started?

It has evolved quite a bit. Both producers and consumers are more open to trying this kind of wine. Consumers ask for and seek them out, especially young people. There’s a growing trend for natural wine, so producers try it, make mistakes, learn and then start wanting to make wine without intervention. It’s good to see wine production continue to evolve in a way that serves the environment. It’s not something that should remain just a trend - it has to be taken up with an understanding of how one wants to live! There’s now a dialogue that didn’t previously exist, with producers talking about how to protect their soil and their grapes, to produce something from their own environment. 

But with industry pressures, it’s not easy for young producers to start their own path. You have to have courage and call on great inner strength. The best reward for us is when we’re able to convince people to make natural wine after they finish their studies, through inviting them to work in the vineyard, doing harvests and presses. That’s the best learning we can offer and we are interested in continuing to share this with people. 

Can you tell me about Marga Marga, the grapes, the climate, and the traditions that define the region?

Marga Marga is very old. There are records from 1586 that indicate the presence of both gold and vines in this area, brought over by the Spanish in the native language, Marga Marga means Gold Gold. So there have been grapes here for over 400 years, and also an influence from French winemakers who gradually replaced the Spanish strains - which wasn’t the best idea. 

The area has a strong sea influence and a very favorable climate, especially for white grape varieties. The soil is predominantly clay and we are surrounded by a very important sclerophyllous native forest, which is always green and requires little water to thrive. It is full of fauna, flora and biodiversity. There is a lot of surrounding life that contributes to the health of the vineyard and that allows it to remain in balance without the need for intervention.

Have you been affected by the recent forest fires?

The fires were very serious in terms of loss of life and homes. It necessitates a tremendous commitment to regenerate the biodiversity, flora and fauna of the land, and part of how we do this is through planting native grapes. We were able to control the fires here where we are, but native forests and surrounding life is lost which means our support work with the wider ecology is compromised. Not far away, there was a beautiful botanical garden which was completely burned. We lost around 4,000 hectares in total in the area.

The law here in Chile doesn’t protect the land because when forests burn, it creates space for new buildings. Sometimes it seems as though the fires are intentional. This time was a catastrophe with 150 deaths, not counting all those who were affected with burns and lost everything. We have to help each other. As for our winery, the temperatures and smoke from the fires were challenging, but we were okay. 

What are some of the traditional ways in which you work?

Our winery is made of local clay - there is no cement or concrete in its construction. We don’t have electricity or temperature control, and we use old techniques. These include a bamboo mat used to destem and crush grapes, vats made from cowhide and rauli barrels made from old Chilean wood - but we also use old French barrels.

One of the cowhide vats.

Can you describe the vineyard and its surroundings? 

We’re not far from the sea to the west and the Andes mountains to the east. We’re like an island surrounded by green hills and forests. The climate is very healthy. We also have a volcanic influence and a lot of purity because we have moisture in the morning, heat during the day and freshness in the afternoon. The sea, the mountains, the volcanoes and the rivers of the area are what make our wines unique.

What grapes do you grow?

We work with Creole strains - Pais, Muscatel, Pink muscatel, San Francisco and Cuyana - and also French strains that were in this area before - like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. More and more, we replace the very delicate French strains with strains that adapt better and need less rain.

Can you describe the soil and terroir?

The soil is clay 'maicillo' (fine stone) with a lot of grass and native flowers that grow and die in the same place. It shows in the wine if we compare it with others. We do tastings and you can smell the scents, aromas, and flavors of the vineyard, the winery and its yeasts. You can smell things from the native forest!

Visit Viñedos Herrera Alvarado's RAW WINE profile to learn more about the winery and discover which RAW WINE fairs they're pouring at soon.

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