LIFE STORY: Víctor Yáñez


Winegrowing u. n. The art and activity of growing grapes and making wine.

Extinct a. The process of making or becoming extinct, gradual elimination or disappearance.

Cauquenes, Maule Valley, (Chile), April 4th. Victor’s life in the vineyards started 72 years ago.When I was 10, I started working on the vines, trimming and shaping them with my dad. He is talking about Uva País, the grapevines planted by his grandfather over 100 years ago. I learned from my dad what he learned from my grandad. It is easy to understand why these vineyards are described as ancestral and called heritage vines[1].

Victor’s life has always been in the vineyards. He spent three years at school, and at the age of 13 years, he was already in the fields. He took over when his father died 60 years ago. His wife and faithful companion, Gilda del Carmen Hernandez Rifo, has spent all these years by his side, supporting him. His children left the countryside and the fields, but they help him on Sundays with the harvests. Yet, a question remains: will there be someone to take over? 

Victor knows his grape well, he’s worked with it for years, and he knows that the Cauquenes Grape is the one suited to the drylands: the Uva País grape seeks water and roots deep” and “the Uva País grape needs a good treatment, and that’s about it”. As far as the new vines[2] is concerned, if new vines lack water, they’ve got short lifespans… the Uva País grape is the one with a long lifespan and resistance to droughts.” 

Torn between pride and fear, he explains the differences between those two vines and points out the threat to the Uva País grape. When something new pops up, it seems as if we go all in and forget about the old”; “today, there is not even 50% of what they are e used to be… the estates pulled them out because the grape prices dropped, and that is when the new vines appeared.”

But Victor didn’t just preserve the century-old vines, too he preserved the old winemaking techniques. I didn’t change a thing”. “It was done with few people, crushed and pressed for two to five days with a small crew, all done by hand. We kept it in the winepress for 18 days to be fermented and then taken out and bottled.”

He remains true to his grandfather and father’s ways “because they’ve always paid off, and that’s what matters.” The few changes he introduced were technical improvements for preservation and management so that we could continue to enjoy “the earth’s natural juices”. And not just on the lands of Pangalillo del Calvario but also beyond its borders.I’d like to have more exports and less wine at home in the cellar”.

[1] Patrimonial vines refer to those grape vines planted in Chile during the Spanish colonisation at least more than one hundred years ago. They can be found in the Maule Region drylands.

[2] New vines are those that were exported from France around the 19th century. These vines were brought by the Spanish during the colonisation that aimed at converting indigenous communities. Today, they dominate the market making it very difficult for Patrimonial vines to prevail.


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