Tod Mostero, 38, is head winemaker for Chile's Viña Almaviva, a high-profile joint venture between Concha y Toro and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. The Bordeaux connection runs strong at Almaviva, and through Mostero as well, who got his training in viticulture at Château Haut-Brion and in winemaking at Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix.
Mostero, born in Southern California, originally studied architecture at Tulane University. He later moved to France and studied French literature at the University of Bordeaux. He caught the wine bug while there, and picked up a degree in vineyard management at the Lycée de Blanquefort and eventually a master's degree in enology from the University of Bordeaux. He worked at Haut-Brion and Pétrus while he was earning his degrees. In 1999, he moved back to his native California to work a vintage at Opus One, which at the time was another Rothschild joint venture (with California's Robert Mondavi). He then returned to France, but this time it was to Burgundy, where he spent a harvest at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, working in the vineyards and cellar. At the end of 2000, Mostero was named the technical manager for Domaine de Lambert, a property that the baroness and her sons acquired in late 1998. He then joined Viña Almaviva in 2004, and he vinified the wine that same year.
Wine Spectator: What got you interested in being a winemaker?
Tod Mostero: I was 18 years old when my first interest in wine was sparked at a Christmas dinner in Lille. The family of a childhood friend invited me to a long meal where a selection of wines was brought up from the cellar, decanted and paired with each coarse.
Years later, I spent time drinking wine and eating with a good friend, also from Lille, a passionate wine lover with a vast knowledge of wine and food. I then discovered the existence of the winegrowing profession.
At a local library, while asking the librarian what universities offered winemaking classes, a bystander mentioned the words "viticulture" and "enology" (words I had never before heard spoken). That marked the beginning, and I began to look into how to go about changing careers from architecture to winemaking.
WS: Who have been your biggest influences as a winemaker?
TM: Patrick Léon, Aubert de Villaine, Bernard Noblé, Jean-Claude Berrouet and Christian Moueix:
Patrick Léon, Aubert de Villaine and Christian Moueix are, for me, the trinity of great men of the wine world. Patrick Léon was my mentor at Baron Philippe de Rothschild, and is an outstanding taster, who can tell the history of a wine with his nose and mouth. He taught me innumerable techniques both in the vineyard and the winery.
Aubert de Villaine is all about integrity and honesty, and you can taste it in his wines; it would have been impossible to have left Romanée-Conti without being completely changed by his presence—dignified, unpretentious, and humble.
Christian Moueix has always given me invaluable advice about my career and has been my greatest example of a perfect winemaker. He is clear, precise and is profoundly attached to the vineyard. He has guided me from the beginning.
Bernard Noblé and Jean-Claude Berrouet are both technicians and poets. They are sensitive and both make some of the purest wines I know.
All these men are attached to the earth and have a great sense of the impact that we have on it.
WS: What is it about Chile that you like?
TM: I like the Chilean people's discretion, merquén [a Chilean spice made from smoked, dried ground peppers], Mapuche sculpture, the colorful handmade ponchos from the north and the contrasts in the geography and climate, from the Atacama desert to the Southern lakes—contrasts which are translated into a great diversity of wines.
WS: And that you wish you could change?
TM: I wish I could convince the drivers in Santiago to use their turn signals when changing lanes.
WS: What are the differences between Chile and Bordeaux from a winemaking perspective?
TM: Chile's general geographic layout, a thin strip of land sandwiched between the Andes and the cold Pacific Ocean, gives it very unique climatic and soil conditions, quite different from those found in Bordeaux. Maybe the greatest differences have to do with the climate. In the Maipo Valley, we have about one third the annual rainfall of that in Bordeaux, and the vast majority of that water falls in the winter months [from June to August in Chile], so we have very little rainfall during the growing season.
Some other differences have to do with what is underground: The mineral profile of the water that comes from the Andes, the clayish-loam and stony soils, and the vines without rootstock. The question is very big because there are many more differences!
WS: Does your strong Bordeaux background help you in Chile, or can it be a hindrance sometimes?
TM: I think that my experience in Bordeaux has helped me by giving me a reference point, not necessarily an absolute model. I don't consider my past experience to be a hindrance, but Chile's very different context has never ceased to surprise me with new challenges. I have often relied on the experience of locals to better understand the particularities of this place and its potential. Maybe the greatest thing my experience has taught me is that one must always adapt to new situations. There are no recipes.
WS: What is your favorite food pairing with the Viña Almaviva?
TM: The most successful pairing I've ever tried is an Almaviva 2000 with grilled vieja [a flaky white fish], grilled onions and truffle butter … unforgettable.
WS: Other than one of your own, what is your favorite wine?
TM: A 1961 Romanée-Conti served at the 2000 harvest party at DRC.
WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be, and why?
TM: Baron Philippe de Rothschild, to see the things he saw and to do all that he did. To be a racecar driver, an actor, and a gentleman wine producer capable of rocking the 1855 Bordeaux classification.
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