La caña, la raja, la gringa

Well everyone, this gringa has returned to gringolándia for awhile.

Now that I am here, staying with my parents for a few weeks in the dense forests and rainy farmlands of Western Pennsylvania, I have a lot of time to reflect on Chile, the place I miss with all my heart, and – especially – the wine I miss just as much. I worry about existing here in the north without amazing natural wine from centurion parras (surely a fountain of youth and potion of true happiness and wisdom), but somehow I must get by.

I have a couple of missions here.

First, I will begin working on my doctorate at University of Arizona in Tucson at the end of August. Having lived for many years in the adjacent deserts of New Mexico, going to Arizona will be like going home.

In preparation for the move from Chile to the US, I searched online for a place in Tucson to buy interesting natural wine. The only option seemed to be a store that exclusively sells natural wine imported from around the world (primarily Europe at the moment). So I wrote a note via their website letting the proprietors know I was excited to visit and try their wines. I also provided a link to Navegado.cl. They quickly responded that they would like to taste the wines we represent and could be interested in importing if they are sufficiently impressed.

So I arrived to the USA with four precious bottles in my suitcase, an ambassador between the Navigators of Chile and our new potential allies in Tucson.

Carefully protected by Shemyr’s bubble wrapping, the bottles survived the rough journey and the customs inspection and are comfortably awaiting our departure for Tucson in my childhood bedroom.

I brought:
Cacique Maravilla Pipeño 2012
Viña Artesanal González Bastías País en Tinaja 2012
Domaine de Manson Coronino Viognier 2011
Domaine de Manson Turco Carmenere 2010

And a bottle of double-distilled pisco for myself, which I have been carefully rationing.

I carried some with me over the weekend (in a small bottle in my purse) to a backwoods bar along the Clarion River, smiling to myself at the irony of sneaking Chilean pisco into my glass of ice, with gringo cowboys wailing on the jukebox in the background and a stoic buffalo head eyeing me from its mount high on the wall.

I wanted to travel with aguardiente in my possession, but Shemyr and I didn’t have any in Santiago Centro before I left. As a substitute, finding some moonshine in these here parts would make my lonely, pensive nights brighter and my heart lighter (isn’t that the whole idea behind moon-shine anyway?). So, my viñatero friends, please raise a caña of aguardiente to the search!

My other mission here is to promote our wines in United States, to seek interesting partnerships and opportunities for Navegado, and to create awareness of the País grape, which also played an important role in the history of the southwest deserts I call home.

Many accounts indicate that the País cepa was first planted in the entire western hemisphere near Socorro, New Mexico, a tenacious terroir, where I lived and loved and fell and flew and grew for 13 years before moving to Chile. The País grape is known as Mission here (and Listan Prieta in Europe).

Viticulture flourished in the old Wild West, where Socorro was a boom town filled with rowdy bars and lewd brothels. One of those legendary establishments – The Capitol Bar – still stands proud on the small town’s plaza, and I made so many crazy memories between its walls back in the day, joining more than a century of characteristic patrons, including Billy the Kid and other famous western personages. Sometime I will write more about this (perhaps after I pass through Socorro and pay my favorite bar a visit in a few weeks on the way to Arizona). But for the moment, I digress.

Several local historians have done quality research and written a great deal about the topic of wine and alcohol in New Mexico and Arizona, so I won’t repeat everything here (see the end of this blog entry for links to informational articles). But the short story is that aside from sharing a grape, the southwest USA and Chile shared a similar wine culture for a time.

Unfortunately, the desert environment is fickle and so are people. Floods, frost, disease, and Prohibition essentially wiped out the Mission grape and Southwest wine production in general (although the industry is now making a promising comeback and some wineries are producing Mission wines). The last remaining old Mission vines reportedly disappeared in the 1980’s.

Now the legacy of this mythical grape survives in Chile, a truly ideal paradise for natural winemaking and legitimate agri-culture. The message is this:
Chile, appreciate and protect your treasure!

And that is the entire point of Navegado. When I get to Arizona, I will search for our grape, I will taste its cultivation in another hemisphere, I will create a link to Chile, so I can survive, so we can all survive, dear Navigators. My mission is Mission.

As I sit here now in the oddly tame and civilized woods of my parents’ earth, waiting for the rain to stop so I can go for a run and drinking a tea of my mom’s spicy menta, I want cordillera and viñas! I want Castellano in my ears! I want La Vega and pequenes and berlines and queso maduro and zapallo and agua con gas! I want pipeño!!!

But as deeply as I miss Chile, this new chapter in the Navegado adventure is gonna be la raja, as long as I can have a caña de vino in my hand and not in my head.

Links for further reading:
The Story of Mission Grapes – Arizona’s First Varietal (by Gary Nabhan)
The History of Wine in New Mexico: 400 years of struggle (by Henry K. Street) – No longer available online
Socorro’s Vines and Vintners (New Mexico Office of the State Historian)
Socorro’s Territorial Saloons Part 1 (El Defensor Chieftain)
Socorro’s Territorial Saloons Part 2: The Capitol Bar (El Defensor Chieftain)
Trail Dust: army doctor left description of territorial New Mexico (Santa Fe New Mexican)
History of New Mexico Wine (New Mexico Wine Grower’s Association) – No longer available online

By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Navegado.cl

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