Jonas Andersen is the restaurant and wine program manager at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia.  He hails from Copenhagen, but has been living in La Paz for the last year, learning about Bolivian cuisine and wines alongside chefs Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari.  As the three have seen, and as guests at next week’s 2nd Feria Tambo in La Paz will see, there is a great deal of undiscovered knowledge to be learned from Bolivia.  For Jonas, the wines have helped to change his mind entirely about standard growing practices.  Read up to get a taste of what could be the next big thing. 

By: Jonas Andersen

Jonas Andersen, General Manager

Jonas Andersen, General Manager

I’ve been down here for nearly a year now, and it took me around four months to gather contacts for all producers. Bolivia has around 2.700 hectares under vine, and most are located in Tarija and Camargo.  In Tarija the vineyards are located between 1700 and 2400 meters above sea level. Camargo (in the Cinti region) is all the way up to 3100 meters above sea level.  Samaipata is the third and smallest region. I only know of 2 wineries there, and a handful growers. They are growing in around 1750 meters above sea level.   So Bolivia is taking the concept of altitude wine to the extreme.

The effect of altitude is: 1. Dramatic temperature variations from night and day, meaning that the plant is consuming (respiration) a lot of the sugar it has been producing (photosynthesis) during the day because of cold nights. This extends the ripening time by up to several months, giving the berries a much higher development of phenolic compounds. 2. Being closer to the sun gives a more intense UV radiation also leading to higher development of phenolic compounds.

Bolivian white wines are, generally speaking, more aromatic on tropical fruit and flowers.  The white plantings include Moscatel de Alejandría (Singani and white table wine), Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Franc Colombard. Bolivian reds are bigger in texture, more spicy, and heavier in tannins.   The red plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Tannat, Barbera, Tempranillo, Grenach, Alfonso La Valle, Black Criolla and Misionera.

Many of these varietals go straight into table wine. I’m starting to work with different wineries to make us single varietals for next year’s harvest.  Next year I’ll be getting a straight Barbera from Bodega Kohlberg, and more from other wineries. It’s fairly easy to collaborate with the small producers who only can make 150 bottles of a single varietal.

The first grape plantings were in the 15th century by Spanish and Portuguese traders. The first vine cuttings were taken to Cinti and to Tarija in 1606 and to Samaipata in 1618. Now there are 33 active wineries in Bolivia, and the Bolivian wine sector provides 5000 direct jobs and 11,000 indirect jobs.

Most wine production back then was made for Singani (The Bolivian Eau-de-Vie), and was mostly consumed by miners. Singani is distilled wine of Moscat de Alenjandría.  It’s a very floral distillate and very true to the base wine. It’s just in the last few years that the upper class is starting to recognize Singani as a quality product and something not just for poor Bolivians.

There is still a massive gap between the big producers and the small producers. The small producers in Cinti have a massive potential, and many of them are producing less than 1000 bottles annually. Most of the small producers are still selling of all their wine in the villages in Cinti.

I’m trying to start a program with another organization to get the big producers in Tarija to “mentor” the small producers in Camargo. The small producers need help in all areas, and the big producers need to help in the process of lifting the Bolivian wine sector. I’m hoping to start this program in 2014.

CBI (Center for the promotion of import from developing countries), a part of the Dutch development aid, have just approved an export program in Bolivia. They will work on the establishment of Wines Of Bolivia as well.

The best way for me to describe Bolivian wines overall, is that nothing is was you expects it to be. I kinda had to forget all my ideas of what different varietals are supposed to be like. And that’s what makes Bolivian wines interesting. When you can surrender and accept that this is a new world of wines, then you can start appreciating the unique and diverse wines from Bolivia.

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