Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines were newly planted, but the team is also trying to revive forgotten vines brought over by the French.

By Mike Pomranz
February 08, 2021
Advertisement

Tiny Easter Island—also known by its native name, Rapa Nui—is only about twice the size of Manhattan and, with fewer than 8,000 residents, is far less crowded. But despite being isolated in the middle of the South Pacific, over 2,000 miles from the Chilean coast, the Polynesian island is famous across the globe for its large, stone "moai" statues with their distinct human faces, reportedly attracting about 100,000 visitors a year. But though the moai will always be the main attraction, Easter Island may have a new, more commonplace tourist stop: a vineyard.

A five-acre vineyard featuring the classic Burgundy combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes has been established on the remote island, according to Decanter. A diverse group of entrepreneurs led by led by winemaker and agricultural engineer Alvaro Arriagada launched the project by planting 3,500 vines of each variety in Pu Ika ta'e Hape, an area about five miles north of Rano Kau, the dormant volcano on the island's southwestern tip. Others involved in these efforts include winemaker Fernando Almeda, historian Cristian Moreno Pakarati, and local specialist Poki Tane Hao and his father, according to the Drinks Business.

Moai statues, rano raraku, easter island, polynesia
Credit: Image Source/Getty Images

"Rapa Nui has a subtropical climate, volcanic soils and is strongly influenced by the cold Humboldt current, which differs from the islands located in French Polynesia," Arriagada told the magazine. "With colder waters and less extreme temperatures with lower levels of humidity, it indicates that the growth of the vines for winemaking purposes could develop successfully."

These grapes wouldn't be the first to grow on Easter Island. French settlers to who traveled to Rapa Nui from the French Polynesian island of Tahiti apparently brought grapes with them, probably in the 19th century. These vines, which were planted inside Rano Kau to protect against wind, have continued to survive to this day as wild vines of now unknown varieties, and part of the Arriagada's plan is to further investigate these grapes.

"We cut 300 vinestocks from the wild vines found inside Rano Kau Volcano, in different states of growth and maturity, some producing grapes," Arriagada was quoted as saying. "We have set up a nursery to evaluate the adaptability and growth. The next challenge is to carry out an ampelography study to find out what the varieties are."

However, despite the previous success of growing wine grapes on the island and the team's expertise in their field, Almeda admitted bringing these old varieties back to life on the island was no guarantee. "I am very excited about this challenge," Almeda told Decanter, "especially considering the unknown vegetal material and the extreme climatic and soil conditions that generate technical uncertainty—which is something difficult to find after 35 years of experience [working with vines]."

Meanwhile, this new vineyard isn't the only place to get booze on the small island. Easter Island is already home to a brewery, Mahina.