Last week, I also sat down with winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga from Chile. As with his Chilean colleague, Cecilia Guzmán at Viña Haras de Pirque, Undurraga is also going green at his winery right from the get-go, with his brand-new Viña Koyle project.
The vineyards at Viña Koyle (pronounced koi-lay), located at the eastern end of the Colchagua valley in an area called Los Lingues (which neighbors Viña Casa Silva), are farmed biodynamically. Sheep are used for weed control in winter, and chickens roam free to handle the bug population in summer. Even rocks excavated from the site were used in the construction of the winery's buildings. Located in the foothills of the Andes, the site features sloping hillsides with varying amounts of decomposed granite and clay on which Undurraga has planted a wide mix of red varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Mourvèdre.
“When you cook, it’s more fun to have lots of ingredients,” says Undurraga, 33, who plans to focus on red varieties only.
Cristóbal comes from the Undurraga family that owned and ran their large, eponymous winery, Undurraga, for many years before selling it in March 2006. That winery was consistently underwhelming, so it's nice to see Viña Koyle get off to a much better start, qualitatively. Interestingly, Cristóbal didn’t aim to get into the wine business, as he spent little time at the family winery as a youngster.
“I didn’t work in the family winery, just weekends, over holidays, when I was home," he says. "It wasn’t what I wanted at first." Instead, Undurraga went to school to study geography, before switching to agricultural engineering. He finished his studies in 2000, but began to think more about wine. With his father’s 12 brothers and sisters, and his own seven siblings, finding a role in the crowded family winery wasn’t easy.
"I decided I wanted to go out and do something on my own," Undurraga says. "I also wanted to work at different-sized wineries, to see different things."
Friends with former Veramonte winemaker Rafael Tirado, Undurraga was able to use the connection to wrangle a short stint at Franciscan, in California (the wineries shared the same owner in the Huneeus family), before heading out to Australia’s Rosemount. “From 400,00 cases at Franciscan to five million at Rosemount, you see a lot of different things,” he adds.
Vineyards at Chile's new Viña Koyle stretch up into the foothills of the Andes and are being farmed biodynamically.
Undurraga also worked a harvest in Bordeaux at Château Margaux with Paul Pontallier in 2002. While there, he connected with the dean of Chilean wine, Aurelio Montes, who was starting his Bordeaux project at the time. Montes asked him if he was interested in helping start something in Argentina, and Undurraga jumped at the chance. He helped get Montes’ Kaiken project up and running. After five years there, he decided it was time to head home, though he still has ties in Argentina with a project called Cayu.
“My father had been running the winery for 45 years, and he wanted to downsize a little," he says. "Undurraga was 1,000 hectares and 1 million cases, and he wanted to change, so he was looking to sell that and buy a medium-sized winery in its place. We talked a lot because I wanted to do something as well, but even smaller. And I wanted to start from zero and build it up, rather than buy vineyards and a winery.”
Eventually, Undurraga honed in on the site in Los Lingues, and along with his father and just two brothers, bought the former wheat-and-cattle farm that seemed well-suited for vineyards.
“It’s rocky, and I like rocks,” says Undurraga. “They give good energy.”
With the wide range of varietals planted and numerous small blocks in the vineyards, Undurraga also plans to vinify numerous lots separately. He has a collection of 1-, 3-, 5-, 6-, 9- and 12-ton tanks to ferment his grapes in.
“I want to set up a little laboratory, to learn about each little spot in the vineyards,” he says, noting that he worked with the terroir-hunter Pedro Parra to map the property before planting it.
The 1,000-hectare estate has about 120 hectares suitable for planting. The first 50 hectares were planted in 2006, and they will come on line starting with the 2009 vintage. The initial vintages were made with purchased fruit, from three vineyards under contract, all growers who had sold their grapes to the Undurraga winery that Cristóbal particularly liked, located in Lolo, Apalta and Los Lingues. They’ll be kept even as all the estate vineyards mature. There were 12,00 cases produced in the 2007 vintage and 18,000 in 2008, with plans to ultimately reach 40,000 cases by 2018.
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Nestor Gonzalez — Medellin, Colombia — June 26, 2010 3:09pm ET
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