I sat down this week with José and Rafael Guilisasti of Viñedos Emiliana in Chile. Emiliana is the organically run arm of Concha y Toro, best known for producing the $5 Walnut Crest line.
The Guilisasti family owns a lot of vineyards—about 3,500 acres. And right now they’re farming half of them organically. It’s rare to see a commitment to organic viticulture on such a large scale.
They’ve also teamed up with winemaker Álvaro Espinoza, who spends a lot of his time at their Los Robles estate located in the Colchagua Valley, just down the road from the well-known Apalta area where Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle make some of their top wines.
The estate adheres to biodynamic farming, in which Espinoza is a big believer. The Los Robles estate is finally going to start sending some wines to the U.S. that should be more available at retail. (They have been sending a line called Sincerity here, but it is exclusive to the Whole Foods chain of grocery stores).
Coyam and Gê are the new wines, priced at $30 and $89 a bottle, respectively. Coyam, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Merlot and Petit Verdot, will debut in the U.S. with its 2005 vintage. It’s really concentrated, with a layer of creamy toast leading the way for blackberry and boysenberry fruit, dark cocoa, graphite and sweet tobacco notes. But while it has a lot of fruit, it also displays a nice loamy terroir note as well. There are 9,000 cases of the wine, which should make it easy to find.
The Gê is Chile’s first-ever certified biodynamic wine (the Coyam wines are biodynamic in practice, but have not been certified). The debut 2003 vintage is a bit of a brute, a big, powerful wine, with Valrhona chocolate, loam, tar, black currant, fig and olive paste flavors that are supported by broad-shouldered tannins. It's not just big though—there's plenty of definition, with a long, authoritative finish. The 500 case blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère is sourced from the best fruit on the estate, and it won’t be made in every vintage (there was no ’04, but there will be an ’05). It’s ambitiously priced, but an impressive effort nonetheless.
So, are these wines necessarily better because they’re organic? No. Organic has quickly become a catch phrase for some marketing-driven wines, and many times it’s just an excuse for lazy farming and vinification practices that result in flawed
wines—which is certainly not the case here. The Guilisastis and Espinoza believe that if organic grape growing doesn’t result in quality grapes, they won’t do it just to be organic.
Instead, these wines are good because they deliver an expression of fruit and place, and have been made with care by a skilled winemaker. But on top of their quality, the fact that responsible viticulture and a respect for terroir is involved might make them more interesting to you, the consumer.
Agustin Huneeus — March 2, 2007 9:39pm ET
Nestor Gonzalez — Medellin, Colombia — March 4, 2007 10:05am ET
James Molesworth — March 5, 2007 8:33am ET
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