I sat down with two different Chilean winemakers over the last week—Francisco Baettig of Viña Errázuriz and Adolfo Hurtado of Viña Cono Sur, both of whom have interesting stories to tell.
Cleaning up at Errázuriz
For Baettig, his story has been one of overcoming hurdles. Baettig, 38, joined Errázuriz in 2004, and his stated mission at the time was to eliminate brettanomyces from the winery’s cellars and wines, while also creating some new red blends and expanding the portfolio of offerings.
As if that wasn’t enough of a mission to tackle, Baettig then got hit with the problem of TBA contamination in the cellar, an insidious problem that Baettig feels he has now cleaned up as well. But it wasn’t easy.
"Because [TBA] is airborne, anything porous—wood, plastics—can become contaminated," he said. "And then you can’t figure out what’s a primary source or a secondary source, so basically you have to eliminate everything. It’s expensive."
The TBA contamination was noticeable in some wines from the 2004 vintage, but with the recently released 2005s, Baettig feels he has eliminated the problem (as well as the aforementioned brett issue as well).
In the meantime, Errázuriz has also finished a new, more modern cellar facility located next door to the historic (and wood-dominated) old cellars, which are now being sandblasted and cleaned out. The new facility now houses the entire production for Errázuriz starting with the 2007 vintage.
Baettig has also helped oversee the planting of several hundred hectares of new vineyards in the Aconcagua Valley, with an emphasis on some cooler spots toward the coast. Working with him is former Viña Santa Rita viticulturist Tomás Eguiguren.
It’s been a lot of work for Baettig since he took the winemaking reigns at Errázuriz, with some unexpected bumps along the road. But his efforts are starting to show - the new ’05 releases show fresher, brighter, purer profiles than earlier vintages, and some of the new blends, including the high-end Carmenère called Kai, look promising.
Pinot is now the hot thing in Chile
Meanwhile, Adolfo Hurtado tells me that Pinot Noir is getting really hot in Chile. Hurtado, 37, has been the winemaker at Viña Cono Sur since the ’97 vintage. The winery produces about 1.7 million cases a year (700,00 under the Cono Sur label) and just completed its first full year in the U.S. market by topping 100,000 cases - not a bad start.
Cono Sur is owned by Concha y Toro but operates as an entirely separate company. Hurtado uses about 50 percent estate fruit, along with long-term contracts for vineyards and some purchased grapes.
Hurtado describes Cono Sur as specializing in cool-climate viticulture—he’s focusing on grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling sourced from regions such as the Casablanca and Bío Bío Valleys.
According to Hurtado, Pinot Noir has raced past Syrah in terms of what wineries are rushing to plant and buy, and a kilo of good Pinot Noir grapes actually fetches more on the market than Cabernet Sauvignon—long the king of Chilean red wines—since the supply of Pinot Noir is so tight.
While Chile may not leap to mind when consumers think of Pinot Noir, there have been some tantalizing signs of potential, with bottlings from Matetic, Casa Lapostolle, Kingston Family, Viña Montes, Veramonte and Viña Casa Marín in the very good range (85 to 89 points). Hurtado’s own Ocio bottling is on the upswing as well. I was really impressed with the not-yet-released ’06 vintage.
Hurtado got the Pinot Noir bug after traveling to Burgundy in 1995. There he connected with Martin Prieur of Domaine Jacques Prieur, who now consults on Cono Sur’s Pinots.
“I realized [then] that we were doing everything wrong,” said Hurtado about Chilean Pinot Noir. “Crushing, pumping over—we were treating it like Cabernet. But now we work much more gentle, and we know where the right spots are too: not Maipo, but Casablanca.”
Baettig and Hurtado typify the current generation of winemakers taking over in Chile, along with the likes of Enrique Tirado and Marcelo Papa at Concha y Toro, Álvaro Espinoza of Antiyal, Marco Puyo at Viña San Pedro, and so on. They’re all in their 30s, all working hard, and all doing some interesting stuff. But they're also still evolving, still learning and still trying new things. Perhaps that's why I might seem to be more cautious in my overall assessments of regions like Chile, Argentina and South Africa. Yes, there's quality there now, but there's also still a long way to go ...
Steve Kirchner — Huntington — January 18, 2008 2:53pm ET
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