A Sit Down with Chile's Adolfo Hurtado

The winemaker for Viña Cono Sur sets the bar for Chilean Pinot Noir
May 7, 2010

I sat down with Adolfo Hurtado, the winemaker for Chile’s Viña Cono Sur, here at my office the other day. The winery, which is owned by Concha y Toro but operates independently, has quickly established itself as one of the best sources for value in cool-climate varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Thanks to that value angle (many of the winery’s bottlings cost less than $25) and the popularity of Pinot in general, Cono Sur sent an ample 144,000 cases to the U.S., more than one-third of which was Pinot Noir. You can read more on Hurtado in my January 2008 and June 2009 blog entries).

But while the organically-run operation has enjoyed success at the value end, Hurtado is quietly putting together an impressive track record at the high end as well, with the winery’s Ocio Pinot Noir. The wine retails for about $50 and was also poured during our recent Grand Tour.

Chile may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Pinot Noir, but it is improving quickly, and the grape seems well-suited for the country’s cooler viticultural spots such as Casablanca and Leyda. As I noted in my previous blog, Pinot Noir is a grape that historically has not been an important variety for Chilean vintners, and consequently many of the vineyards were planted with substandard vine material or in warmer, less ideal spots. That’s changing though, as producers bring in clean (non-virused) plant material, better clonal selections and employ better site selection.

Hurtado is also working with Martin Prieur of Burgundy’s Domaine Jacques Prieur, who is consulting on the Pinot and Chardonnay. The 2008 Ocio Pinot, just about to be released, draws on mostly Casablanca fruit from vines planted in 1989 (among the first in the valley) as well as a small amount of fruit from the neighboring San Antonio area.

The grapes are kept in refrigerated trucks for two days after picking, which dehydrates them a little while keeping the skins clean. The berries are then sorted and destemmed, but not crushed. Hurtado starts the fermentation in a stainless steel tank that’s kept very cool, with the whole berries starting off as a carbonic maceration to maximize their fruit flavors. Eventually the tank is heated up and manual punching down starts, following a normal-styled fermentation, to extract structure and depth. From tank, the wine is then moved to 100 percent new French oak barrels for its malolactic fermentation and élevage.

The resulting wine typically shows a lush but fresh and elegant feel, with alluring cherry and spice notes and a long finish. It’s quickly become arguably the best Pinot Noir in Chile. For now, that makes it king of a small sampling, but the category should continue to grow.

The Burgundian-styled approach extends to Cono Sur’s 20 Barrels Chardonnay as well. Sourced from a windy spot in the Casablanca valley, which results in naturally low yields of around 2 tons per acre, the wine is started in stainless steel tanks but then moved to barrels while fermenting. The barrels are treated first with a saltwater mixture that Hurtado feels leeches out the harsher oak tannins and reduces the overtly oaky character the barrels can impart on the wine without sacrificing the rich, creamy mouthfeel. The wine is not put through its malo, which helps give it a bright, lively orchard-fruit profile as well. At $25 for the newly-released 2008 version, it delivers lots of relative value.

Hurtado also has other projects in the works, including his 100 hectares of biodynamically-farmed vineyards in a cooler, higher-altitude spot in Aconcagua, and a new Syrah bottling from the exciting Limarí Valley that will debut in the ’08 vintage. Those should be fun to watch. But for Burgundian-styled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Hurtado has turned Viña Cono Sur into one of Chile's top wineries.

[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]

Chile Red Wines Pinot Noir

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