I sat down with Sven Bruchfeld yesterday here in my New York office. Bruchfeld, 35, is of German descent, but he was born in Chile. He's now worked a dozen vintages there, with stints at Viña Errázuriz and MontGras. He's currently at Viña Santa Carolina, where he has worked since September of 2005.
Viña Santa Carolina is one of Chile's largest wineries, and one which has lacked excitement in recent years. Bruchfeld was brought on board to help change that.
"When I got here, there was no real direction," he says. "I've tried to make things different by being involved, by showing passion, instead of just making a product."
Passion is one thing, but when you oversee 1,400 acres of vineyards (plus contracts for nearly 3,000 more) and 2.5 million cases of wine a year, you need to effect some real, tangible change.
On the surface, effecting change at a large, corporation-owned winery would seem much harder than doing so at a smaller operation. But Bruchfeld sees it the other way.
"At a small winery, you typically have a strong personality in charge, and they do things one way," he explains. "At a large winery like this, there is less influence, less tradition to deal with, so making changes are easier."
The story here isn't that unusual—Bruchfeld has been given free rein to make any changes that he feels are necessary. First and foremost was to start picking later, in order to get riper fruit. Bruchfeld says he's now picking four to six weeks later, on average, than his predecessors were.
"But I'm not looking for overripe fruit," he says. "This isn't a case of picking late—it's just they were picking way too early, and now we're picking in the normal time range."
Bruchfeld also says that he has "gone back to basics." He's doing skin-contact trials and picking-date trials—the type of rudimentary winery work that a winemaker in his or her first few vintages might do, rather than a veteran winemaker. But Bruchfeld felt it was necessary in order to get in tune with the fruit that VSC brings in.
As usual, effecting change at a winery, big or small, takes time. After he was hired, Bruchfeld reblended the '04 and '05 vintages, and made his first vinifications in the '06 vintage. The '05s will be out shortly, the '06s in another year.
In Chile, wineries such as Concha y Toro, Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle have proven that big and quality can go hand in hand. We'll have to wait and see if Bruchfeld can get VSC into that group.