Pedro Parra –The Soulful Sound of Itata Valley 

Pedro Parra – The Soulful Sound of Itata Valley.

Earlier this year we visited Chile’s birth ground of winemaking, Itata Valley (you can read more about that here). We mentioned the invaluable influence of the driving force behind the rising star of Itata: Pedro Parra. Our Hermen now meets the so-called Dr. Terroir himself. Parra reveals the sound of terroir, both in words and wines. Please delve yourself into the terroir of Itata by following a masterclass on terroir by the master of terroir.

Terroir: Origin of Fine Wines 

Great wines are born on great terroirs. To put it another way: terroir is the origin of fine wine. It all starts with terroir. In case of Pedro Parra that should be taken literally. Parra worked on world’s greatest terroirs for years, without having had a single sip of wine. 

The remarkable story of Pedro Parra starts in the late 1990’s. As a 27-year-old PhD-student he maps vineyards. He maps the world’s most famous terroirs, without ever heard of the word terroir before. To set the scene: in his early days Parra analyses the terroir of Almaviva – the collaboration between Concha Y Toro and Mouton Rothschild in the Chilian Maipo Valley. Parra had no clue.

The Emotional Link between Terroir and Wine 

Wearing practical working clothes and blessed with a great pair of working hands, Pedro Parra is not your prototypical academic. ‘I like to be in the ground, not in the computer.’ In Bordeaux he learns to speak about terroir and it is Burgundy where he links terroir and wine. ‘We were tasting wines at a famous winery in Vosne-Romanée. Words like tension, minerality and elegance came along. I had no idea how to speak.’ After a walk through the vineyards Parra retastes the wines. Suddenly everything falls into place. ‘On that moment, everything changes. That moment defines my career. I will chase that emotion all my life.’

The Language of Soils

Ask Pedro Parra about terroir and he will talk. He will talk effortless. He will talk limitless. He will talk in poetical metaphors. On geology for example: ‘geology puts the rhythm in the wine.’ Or on schist: ‘in wines from schist one hears the obscure tension of minerality.’ Or, what to think about basalt? ‘Basalt gives a powdery, ashy sensation.’ Parra knows how to catch soils in words as much as in wines. ‘Granite brings bright and frontal energy.’

On clay Parra is nuanced: ‘Italian Americans and Irish Americans share the same passport. Their genetics however are different. The same goes for clay. There is good clay and bad clay – and they are not easy to distinguish. Good clay provides pleasure, roundness and a sensation of sweetness. It is hard to dislike wines from good clay. Château Petrus is made from the best clay soils.’ Entirely serious adding: ‘I will not buy a bottle of Petrus. It is not my thing.’

Soil means the World to Pedro, it all starts here.

Moving from Consultant to Winemaker

Being known as the French guy digging holes, Parra works for the best Chilean and Argentinian wineries. ‘We changed the music in Argentina by finding limestone in Mendoza.’ Thanks to famous oenologist Alberto Antonini, Parra ends up in Italy. In Italy, every guy knows a guy and every client leads to another client. He works for leading wineries from Montalcino to Chianti Classico and from Sicily to Barolo. Parra builds up a wealth of knowledge and experience. Making his own wine seems to be a natural next step. The common Chilean wine regions however could not interest him. It was a wine by Marcel Lapierre that leads him towards Itata Valley. 

Despite heavy criticism and contrary advice, Parra starts investing in Itata. Spending his savings – not even leaving his children’s piggy bank untouched – step by step he builds his project on old País and Cinsault vines. ‘Itata is a paradise to grow grapes. The place is very windy.’ Grapes are healthy and molt and diseases are rarely seen. ‘In Itata the most natural grapes in the world are grown.’ 

Harvest in Itata for Pedro’s Wines.

The Opposite of Burgundy

Although the wines of Pedro Parra are appreciated by wine critics, the master of terroir is not content at all. Parra wants his wines light, tensional and mineral. His wines turn out to be the opposite: dark, concentrated and heavy. ‘There was just one problem and the problem was me.’ The solution appears when Parra meets the winemakers of Comando G. Their terroir near Madrid seems similar to Parra’s, but their wines are not. ‘Those bastards make the wine I wanted to make.’ 

The final change took two more years and a bottle of Château Rayas. ‘We became drunk and they asked me about my horrible wines. They helped me see I practiced a Burgundian vinification on non-Burgundian soils.’ The fix: a vinification method that Parra likes to call ‘the opposite of Burgundy.’ The opposite of Burgundy by Pedro Parra means spontaneous fermentation in concrete tanks and long whole cluster fermentations on low temperatures. Extraction is soft and gentle. No pigéage, remontage or délestage, only maceration. ‘The only thing I do is wet the cap with my hand for a minute a day.’ 

The Link between Music and Wine

The mid- and top-level wines of Pedro Parra are named after jazz musicians. Smiling: ‘Americans cannot spell nothing wrong.’ Then more serious: ‘I love jazz and I used to play saxophone. My jazz professor was talking about tension, grip and complexity. Words on wine turned out to be the same as on music. Tension, grip and complexity.’ 

According to Parra, the sound of wine is comparable to the sound of music. Both are based on ins and outs. Where the ins are the comfortable elements, the outs create tension and complexity. To make the comparison clear: the music of Taylor Swift is in, the music of King Crimson is out.

Pedro standing proudly next to his Wines.

The Winemaker as a Musician in Service of the Terroir

In wine, the most significant in is fruit. ‘I will kill winemakers talking about great fruit. Wine is not about fruit. Wine is about all the things behind the fruit.’ One of strongest outs in wine is acidity – ‘only crazy wine people like acids.’ Second out is minerality – ‘minerality is a difficult taste.’ For Parra, reduction is one of the most beautiful outs. Excluding sulphites is an easy out, but according to Parra ‘these wines are weird.’ Parra explains: ‘I apply very little sulphur in my wines. Not because I like natural wines, but because I do not like natural wines.’

The vinification is adapted to the profile of the grape variety. ‘Pais is very out, so my vinification of Pais is focusing on putting in the wine.’ Vinification of Cinsault needs a different approach. ‘Cinsault is very in; it is too fruity. Vinification of Cinsault should focus on creating tension.’ 

The Wines

We tasted all the wines of Pedro Parra. It starts with the great value for money wines Vinista País and Imaginador Cinsault. We tasted the extremely exiting Soulpit País, but unfortunately, we did not take notes on this wine. We did take notes on the mid-level wines Hub en Monk and the cru wines Trane, Newk and Monk. Fun fact: the piano on the labels of the mid- en top level wines refer to the depth of the granite soil. 

The Wines we tasted at Pedro’s Terroir Masterclass.

2022 Vinista País – Pedro Parra

País from basalt and granite soils. Expressive and floral, flavors of wild strawberry, blood orange and rosehip. Touch of wet stone, wet earth and mint. Energetic, mineral, bright and lively.

92-point DWA score

2021 Imaginador Cinsault – Pedro Parra

Field blend with a large amount of Cinsault from sandy soils. Open, sweet cherry, dark rose, humid stone, slightly smoky. Delicate open en round fruits, slim, balanced acidity, black mineral core, slightly grippy, length.

93-point DWA score

The Origin of Pedro’s Wines, his Vineyards.

2022 Trane Cinsault – Pedro Parra

‘Saxophonist John Coltrane – ‘Trane’ – is my hero. His song A Love Supreme is about complexity and tension.’

Deep bouquet, flavours of balsamic, rose, rosehip, sour cherry and orange peel. The wine is intense and complex, dark, rustic, mineral and well structured. Flavours of black berry are accompanied by a dark stony core, brain freezing acids and an intense spiciness, leading into a long-lasting aftertaste.

95-point DWA score

2021 Monk Cinsault – Pedro Parra

‘Pianist Thelonious Monk is a big guy. He is playing the piano heavy and loud. Monk is my loudest and most heavy wine.’

Expressive bouquet with ripe, open and perfumed fruits. Red cherry, blue berry and a touch of citrus and orange peel. Compared to the others, Monk is quite open en broad. Soft, pure, floral, slightly herbal. Nice balance between open fruits and energizing acids. Monk might be Parra’s most ‘in’ wine.

93-point DWA score

2022 Hub Cinsault – Pedro Parra

‘Freddie Hubbard is the most intense and mineral trumpet player ever. Hub is my most vertical and linear wine.’

Intense bouquet, showing flavours of cherry, citrus, bergamot and white balsamic. Intense, mineral, juicy, elegant, great acids and a great length. 

94-point DWA score

2022 Newk Cinsault – Pedro Parra

‘Sonny Rollins ‘Newk’ to me was the wildest saxophone musician. Newk is my most wild and stony wine. Newk is radical. It is like licking the granite. It is sensational.’ 

The bouquet in this youthful stage is compact and reserved. Slightly reductive, sour cherry, rosehip, wet stone and exiting green notes. Austere and sober, deep and dark, stony concentration, tension, structure and fine-grained tannins. Newk is amazingly energetic en direct. The minutes lasting aftertaste gives a spicy – almost peppery and hot – sensation. Newk seems to be Parra’s most out wine. This one is for the thrill seekers!

96-point DWA score

2021 Miles Cinsault – Pedro Parra

‘Miles Davis is the king of Jazz. Davis is complete, rich, tense and – above all – Miles is pleasure.’

Expressive, pure, perfumed, red fruits, soy and orange peel. Miles might be the most distinguished and most ‘salonfähig’ one in the row. It is juicy and elegant and a slightly wider palate, showing mouth filling and mouth-watering red berry and cranberry. Miles starts subtle, elegant and harmonious, but the less civilized side of Miles does not take long. A youthful energy and stimulating piquancy promise a long and exciting ride. 

95-point DWA score

The Soulful Sound of Terroir

The wines of Pedro Parra do reflect the sound of Itata’s terroir. They proof Parra is a highly talented musician in service of the terroir. The sound of terroir touches. The sound of terroir intrigues. The sound of terroir energizes. 

Thank you for the Music!

This article is written by our own Hermen Jansen. The wines of Pedro Parra are available in the Dutch market through selected partners of Pallas Wines.