I sat down last week with Marcelo Papa, one of Concha y Toro’s winemakers. He is responsible for the Casillero del Diablo and Marqués de Casa Concha lines, two sources of consistently very good to outstanding values.
He wanted to show me how he had fine-tuned the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon. You might think that a $10 wine doesn’t get much TLC from a winemaker--why bother?
While it’s easy to make 900 or 9,000 cases of good wine, it gets much harder when the volume goes up to 90,000, let alone the 900,000 cases made of this wine. Managing quality control over that much wine and competing for top-quality fruit while maintaining a bottom line isn’t easy. Luckily for Papa, Concha y Toro has the resources, and it has let Papa use them.
In recent years, he has consolidated the vineyard sources for the wine. From vineyards scattered around Chile, he has narrowed his focus to a handful, many of which are now estate-owned or under long-term contracts.
Papa has also focused on Chile’s prime Cabernet terroirs – in the Maipo, Rapel and Maule valleys. Each of these regions lends a different characteristic to the grapes grown in their soils.
In the Maipo Valley, Papa is using mostly fruit from the Lo Mackenna vineyard, a 700-plus-acre vineyard just south of Pirque that is now under 30-year contract to Concha y Toro. With its fine, gray sand and loam river bench soils, the vineyard produces textbook Cabernet notes of black currant and cassis, with soft tannins.
In the Rapel Valley, the winery's 740-acre Palo Santo vineyard (planted from 1998 to 2000) in the Marchigue area consists of red clay soils, which impart blacker fruit flavors and a tarry, juicy finish.
In the Maule Valley, the Quebrada de Agua vineyard, another 700-plus-acre tract owned by Concha y Toro, was planted in 1991. It features dark grey/brown river bench soils with large pebbles (similar to the soils in the Maipo site but not as fine-grained). The wine from here shows lots of bright red fruits, with tobacco and pepper notes – a function of the soil's fertility, which leads to higher vine vigor.
Sourcing from these three vineyards, Papa achieves a Cabernet Sauvignon that shows the full range of red and black fruits, with modest toast and nice tobacco and loam hints.
No, it’s not a 95-point wine. But it does provide varietal character and a sense of place – impressive, considering its volume. That’s because it receives the attention to detail and focus on quality you’d expect of a more expensive wine. And that’s not easy to do ….