I sat down yesterday with Isabel Guilisasti and Marcelo Papa. If you follow Chile at all you know they’re two of the driving forces behind Concha y Toro’s success: Guilisasti oversees the company’s vineyard-specific wines, such as the Terrunyo line. Papa is the winemaker in charge of the winery’s Casa Concha line.
But while they would seem to have their hands full with maintaining the quality of their current projects, that doesn’t stop them from pushing the envelope in some of Chile’s new areas.
To that end, Concha y Toro has set up a new, separate project called Maycas del Limarí, located 250 miles north of Santiago, in the rapidly developing Limarí Valley. Rapidly might be an understatement: In 1995 there were just 230 acres of vineyards in what was, at the time, a fairly forgotten viticultural area. But as of the last official count in 2005, there are now over 4,000 acres of vines, with more on the way.
Concha’s development in Limarí is an extension of the company’s initial purchase there in 2005. Concha y Toro now has five separate vineyards in Limarí, with over 1,000 acres planted (and more on the way). While the valley as a whole is still dominant in red varieties, Guilisasti and Papa are betting that the strong coastal influence, combined with a unique limestone bed buried under the valley’s alluvial clay soils, will be better suited for white varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. (They do, however, plan to work with cool climate red varieties such as Pinot Noir and Syrah as well.)
“Most [vineyard] development has been along the Andes and the Central Valley,” says Guilisasti. “If we’re going to do something new, we have to look at coastal areas.”
The Limarí valley benefits from a strong coastal influence—more so than Chile’s other coastal areas such as Casablanca, Marchigüe and San Antonio, as the coastal range of mountains which hugs the shoreline starts in Limarí, and thus features lower elevations than the rest of the range as it heads southward. That means more of the ocean breezes make their way up into the valley. “The breeze just lasts all day,” says Guilisasti.
A tank sample of the winery's not-yet-released 2007 Chardonnay, which was vinified primarily in stainless steel tank along with some used oak, shows a vibrant minerality, with crunchy acidity and lots of bright lemon-lime flavors. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most Chilean Chardonnays, which still feature some barrel fermentation and tropical fruit flavors. With a suggested retail price of $20, it’s a really solid value.
The project shows a lot of early promise and with the passion of Guilisasti and Papa behind it, I expect good things. Chile needs a shot of excitement these days, and it just might come from some of the new areas now under development by both big and small wineries.
Note: Maycas del Limarí's debut 2005 Syrah and 2006 Chardonnay are about to be released to the U.S. market, and official reviews will appear in a future issue of Wine Spectator, after the wines are tasted blind.