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Chile's Viña San Pedro and Bordeaux's Château Dassault Join Forces


Michèle Shah, James Molesworth
Posted: July 11, 2001

Chile's Viña San Pedro and Bordeaux's Château Dassault have announced a new joint venture to make red wines in Chile. The two partners will be investing $7 million in the project, which includes the construction of a new winery facility and a guest house in the Rapel Valley.

San Pedro is one of Chile's largest wineries, with more than 6,400 acres of vines (as well as nearly 1,500 acres of vineyards in Argentina's Mendoza region) and 10 different brand lines, including Castillo de Molina, Cabo de Hornos, Gato Negro and Gato Blanco. San Pedro, which is listed on the Santiago stock exchange, is one of Chile's largest wine exporters, selling to more than 50 countries.

Château Dassault, in the St.-Emilion appellation, was purchased by Marcel Dassault in 1955 under the name Château Couperie, and it earned the grand cru classé designation in 1969. The 60-acre estate currently produces more than 8,000 cases of wine per year, under the management of Dassault's grandson, Laurent Dassault. The family company, Dassault Aviations, manufactures Mirage fighter jets and Falcon aircraft.

Laurent Dassault and Guillermo Luksic, director of Viña San Pedro, finalized the partnership contract on June 21. "It's really exciting," said Dassault, who has established a new company, The Dassault Vintage Investment Fund, to develop vineyards around the world. "The investment in Chile is a great opportunity for making money as well as classy red wines. In 1999, I started investing in Mendoza, Argentina, with [Château Clarke owner Benjamin de] Rothschild and [Bordeaux-based consulting enologist] Michel Rolland. For the future, I'm looking to South Africa and Australia."

The new Chilean venture, as yet unnamed, will produce wine from a 358-acre vineyard parcel in Totihue, in the Rapel Valley, about 120 kilometers south of Santiago. San Pedro's vineyard, which is situated in a mix of clay and rocky soil at the base of a 2,300-foot hill, benefits from the dry, cool climate; the vines were planted from six to 10 years ago.

Overseeing the project will be consultant Pascal Chatonnet, a Bordeaux enologist whose résumé includes having discovered how to decontaminate cellars affected by wood preservatives that cause "corky" wines. (Read Corky Wines Linked to Cellars in France and Truth and Consequences.) "There's a new generation of wines coming out of Argentina and Chile," said Chatonnet. "With the new mentality in Chile of cutting down on yields, there's great potential to make top-quality wines."

The partners will produce two lines of wines -- both Cabernet Sauvignon¿Merlot blends -- with an ultimate goal of 35,000 cases annually for both lines combined. About 40 percent of the total production will be exported to the United States.

"The top premium wine will be a blend of 70 to 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 percent Merlot, perhaps with a bit of Sangiovese," said Chatonnet. "The second premium wine will be a similar blend. The difference will be in the aging of the wines. The top wine will all be aged in new barriques, while the second wine will be aged in 30 percent new barriques and 70 percent one-year-old barriques."

The first vintage of the new project will be 2002, planned for release in 2004. The top wine, of which an initial 130 cases will be released, will retail for about $30 a bottle, and the second wine, of which 200 cases will be released, will be priced at about $15 a bottle.

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Check our recent ratings of Château Dassault and Viña San Pedro wines.

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