Another Sit-Down with Chile's Sven Bruchfeld

The Chilean winemaker settles into a new role, as one-man show for his Polkura project
Jun 17, 2010

Sven Bruchfeld has gone from big to small, and that’s just the way he wants it. A few years back, Bruchfeld left his job as winemaker at Chile’s large Viña Santa Carolina operation to focus on his own project, Viña La Agricola, which produces a red wine under the Polkura label (he also recently added a Sauvignon Blanc called Aylin).

I first met with Bruchfeld while he was at VSC and have seen him make the transition to Agricola La Viña. He’s let his hair grow long, for one.

The project has now come full circle, in a way: Bruchfeld is just about to release his '08 vintage (his fifth vintage at Polkura), which happens to mark the first vintage he was 100 percent at Polkura, after splitting time between it and his main gig in the previous vintages.

The main Polkura red is a blend of primarily Syrah, along with a mix of other grapes including Malbec, Tempranillo, Grenache, Viognier and more (the blend changes from year to year) and it’s gotten off to a solid start, with very good to outstanding quality and a modest ($25) price tag. The wine is also unique, combining both fleshy, smoky aspects that fans of warm-climate reds will enjoy, along with more mineral, pepper and tobacco notes that will appeal to fans of cool-climate reds.

Now Bruchfeld is adding a twist in the 2008 vintage—a new Malbec bottling.

“When I planted the hill I thought maybe 15 percent Malbec would be the right amount for the blend,” said Bruchfeld of his original idea for Polkura. “But I never wound up using all of it. Still, I was nervous about bottling a separate Malbec because Polkura is really meant to be a Syrah project. Then in '08 a small brush fire came close and nearly burned the Malbec parcel, but it survived. So my partner said it deserved to be bottled on its own after making it through that.”

As for the '08 vintage, Bruchfeld described it as good for cooler areas like Marchigüe (where his vineyard is), located near the coast at the western end of the Colchagua valley.

“It was a cold spring but got warm later on, which was perfect for cooler areas,” he said. “The wine is structured, but not chalky or too severe.”

[Note: As always, an official review based on a blind tasting will appear in the near future.]

Being a one-man show also meant Bruchfeld had to do his own clean up after the recent earthquake in Chile. There were no teams of workers to help him and the winery where he rented space told him he was on his own, as they had their own problems to deal with, to boot.

“It was a quick recovery, but we worked our asses off,” he said. “It was the toughest two weeks of physical work I’ve had since I was an intern.”

Luckily losses weren’t too severe for Bruchfeld—he lost 20 percent of his '09 vintage when barrels toppled and fell, but miraculously lost none of his bottled '08 stocks.

“The loss is cash flow in two years, when the wine was going to be sold,” said Bruchfeld, without any hint of dejection or despair. “2009 was the year we were scheduled to be in full production, so it just delays our break even point. I didn't get in this to make a lot of money anway.”

Though small, Bruchfeld’s project is part of a growing number of like-sized wineries (Matetic, Viña Casa Marín, Viña Garcés Silva, Antiyal and Kingston Family among them) in Chile, whose wine industry has long been dominated by a handful of large players. To help push the small-winery idea, Bruchfeld is a member of MOVI (Movement of Independent Vintners), a group of small, individually-owned Chilean wineries that is bringing some needed diversity to the country’s offerings.

“The future of Chile is the smaller, unique wineries,” said Bruchfeld. “For years the big wineries pulled Chile along and got the industry through crises, so of course they have been and will continue to be a huge part of the business. We wouldn’t be here without them.”

“But there’s also a cultural aspect to winemaking that they have in Europe, but not here yet,” continued Bruchfeld. “When the [winery] owner is involved in all aspects of production, from vineyard to bottle to sales, that naturally limits production since there’s only so much one person can do. It allows the project to be an expression of both terroir and the person making it. It’s wine on a more human scale.”

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