I've written about Pedro Parra, the terroir hunter, before. The Chile-based soil specialist has gotten rather busy recently, helping numerous wineries in Chile and Argentina fine-tune their viticulture based on the myriad soil types that often exist in a single vineyard. What on the surface looks the same is often quite varied below, and Parra's work has caught the interest of folks like Aurelio Montes, Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and others.
So, it was probably just a matter of time until Parra got into the winemaking end of things. I sat down with him here at my office yesterday to talk about his nascent project.
Parra has teamed up with winemakers François Massoc and Louis-Michel Liger-Belair. Massoc, 41, is Chilean, born in Concepción (as was Parra). He worked at William Cole in the Casablanca Valley and, since 2005, has been working part-time for Calyptra, a Cachapoal-based winery whose wines are only available for sale at the clinic of the winery's plastic surgeon owner. Liger-Belair, 37, owns the estate of Château de Vosne-Romanée in Burgundy.
The three connected in France, where both Massoc and Parra have spent some time; as a trio, they are creating a project called Aristos.
Massoc and Parra are also teaming up with Albert Cussan, a former director of Concha y Toro and longtime wine-industry insider, and winemaker Paco Leyton to produce a new line of wines called Clos des Fous.
With Parra's background for terroir, the project is being built from the ground up, with an eye on vineyards first.
"The terroir is the start and there are only certain kinds of terroir—alluvial versus colluvial or shallow versus deep soils—that can really produce great wines," said Parra. "When I work with clients, it can be tough to do a study on a vineyard where the terroir is not great. There, you know what the outcome will be, but of course everyone thinks their terroir is the best. And then on the other side, I've seen great terroir resulting in bad wines. So while terroir is the start, you still need to treat it right."
For their vineyards, Parra and his partners decided to look in Chile's extreme southern wine regions, rather than head into the currently chic spots of Casablanca, Limarí, Elquí or Leyda.
"We thought a long time about Limarí, but we decided there was too much sun there. It's cool, so you get great acidity, but with the sun, you also get sugars, which means alcohol," said Parra. "And in Casablanca, well, everyone is already there. So, we decided to head south."
South means the areas of Bío Bío and Malleco, a full 200 kilometers south of the capital of Santiago and a place where few wineries exist. But the varied, schist-based soils and non-irrigated vines drew Parra's attention, as well as the unique climate.
"The vines are not irrigated, but the area gets 1,100mm of rain annually, including during the summer, so that's not an issue," said Parra. "Plus it's cloudy, which is important for me, because then you get phenolic and sugar maturity at the same time. When you have warm temperatures with sun, that's when you get sugar spikes and more alcohol. But when you have warm temperatures with clouds, that's different. It provides a natural balance in the wines, which means I don't have to correct acidity. I want to express the terroir without making corrections. It is what it is."
Clos des Fous will be the introductory brand, lower priced and with higher volumes reaching 20,000 cases annually. Working with a handful of growers in addition to using 9 hectares of their own vines, Parra and his partners vinified a small amount of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Carignane (the latter from Cauquenes) in the 2009 vintage as a trial, with plans to officially debut in the U.S. market this summer with the 2010 vintage. [As always, official reviews based on formal, blind tastings of the wines will appear in the future.]
"Clos des Fous is a laboratory for me. It's where we can play and experiment. Working with Louis-Michel, he is a perfectionist. François has that French mentality too—they're so serious. So before we do anything with the Aristos label, we need to make sure it is exactly what we are looking for," said Parra.
The Aristos label (from the Greek word for "excellence") will total just 1,000 cases annually. For now, the '07 and '08 vintages of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wait in the wings.
"We're still fighting with each other over the label," laughed Parra. "I told you they were perfectionists."
In the '09 vintage, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Syrah were vinified for Aristos, though the team is debating if they will be officially released.
Both sets of wines are being made in rented facilities for now as the partners will first invest in planting their own vineyards, then perhaps build a winery down the road.
Joe Lunenschloss — ATL, GA — January 14, 2011 4:28pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — January 15, 2011 8:20am ET
Eric P Perramond — Colorado Springs, CO — January 15, 2011 11:38am ET
John Kafarski — Highland Park, New Jersey — January 15, 2011 3:42pm ET
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