Two prominent Chilean wineries have merged, forming a large and formidable combination of vineyards and expertise. Agustin Huneeus Jr., managing partner of Veramonte, tells Wine Spectator that the Casablanca Valley winery has signed a deal with the smaller Viña Neyen de Apalta, located in the prime Apalta sub-valley of the Colchagua Valley. The agreement puts a hefty total of 1,670 acres of vines under the control of the Huneeus family, which founded Veramonte in 1990. The joint venture will give Neyen's wines access to Veramonte's distribution network in the U.S. market, while bolstering Veramonte's ability to compete with red wines in the $15 to $20 range by giving it a top source of grapes for Primus, its brand in that price category.
The partnership combines both cool- and warm-climate vineyard sources—Veramonte specializes in value-priced bottlings of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and also has an improving Pinot Noir portfolio under the guidance of in-house winemaker Cristián Aliaga and consultant Paul Hobbs. Viña Neyen de Apalta produces an outstanding Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon blend under winemaker Patrick Valette. All of them will remain in their current positions, according to Agustin Huneeus Jr., managing partner of Veramonte.
"We have been buying grapes off this ranch for about five years, so we know the property very well," says Huneeus about the Neyen estate. "We think we can expand Neyen's quality production, but the rest [of the grapes] will go to Primus. We will now have the vineyard base to make Primus a Colchagua-based brand, improving the blend by adding amazing Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon. The main wine will always be Neyen, though."
Raul Rojas founded Neyen de Apalta in 1970 but did not begin to export wines from the estate until the 2003 vintage, which earned 90 points on release. The property is located at the far eastern end of the Apalta Valley, neighboring the Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle wineries. There are 540 acres of vines, some up to 100 years old. Until now, only a small percentage of the grapes had been used for the estate's wine, with the rest sold off.
The Huneeus family has been expanding its collection of wines recently. They have long owned several Napa brands—Quintessa, Faust and Illumination. In 2009, they formed a partnership with Flowers Vineyards and Winery, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer. And 11 months ago, they bought two more brands, The Prisoner from Napa Valley and Saldo Zinfandel, from Orin Swift Cellars, while keeping Orin Swift winemaker Dave Phinney on board.
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