I sat down the other day with Francisco Baettig, head winemaker at Chile’s Viña Errázuriz winery, located in the Aconcagua Valley. Baettig, 36, took over the reins there in mid-2003, and the 2004 vintage is the first under his direct control.
Viña Errázuriz's wines have been solid for years, but the winery has yet to break into the consistent 90+-point range that Concha y Toro, Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle have been in this decade. Baettig is looking to change that.
He has more than 1,000 acres of vines to work with, and some of them are top flight – for example, the bowl of vineyards around the winery itself offers some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The winery is owned by Eduardo Chadwick, who also has full control over Viña Seña now that his joint venture with Mondavi has ended and owns Viña Caliterra and his own Viñedo Chadwick label.
Baetting is planning to emphasize Errázuriz’s Max Reserva line, which retails for around $20. I think he’s on the right track. In my opinion, the $15 to $20 level is Chile’s for the taking; I don’t find anything from California or France that is consistently solid at that price point, and Australia seems to be diverging--expensive, small-production wines amid an ocean of $8 wine. Other areas, such as New Zealand and South Africa, aren’t really capable of producing a large number of 25,000- to 50,000-case wines at the $15 to $20 price point. If Chilean producers choose to focus on this band, I think they can really overdeliver, as land and labor costs remain low.
It’s taking time. While it seems Chile has been around forever, Baettig points out that the country's modern-day wine industry has really only existed for about 15 years. During that time, the country’s top wineries have shifted their vineyard base from quantity-geared sites on the valley floor to lower-yielding, quality-oriented sites on hillsides. Many of these new vineyards are still young and are only now starting to show what they can produce.
|The bowl of vineyards around the Errazuriz winery produces some top-flight grapes.|