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A Sit-Down with François Lurton

The peripatetic vintner refocuses on his Chilean project
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 22, 2010 10:43am ET

I sat down with François Lurton at my office the other day, to get up to date on his efforts in Chile.

Lurton, 52, is a member of the large Lurton wine family—he has 21 siblings or cousins—many of whom are based in Bordeaux. François though, struck out from the home base, setting up an operation with his brother Jacques, J. & F. Lurton, that produced wines from France, Argentina, Chile, Australia, Spain and Portugal, while also consulting for numerous wineries around the world. A few years ago the brothers split the business—Jacques took the Bordeaux-based consultancy and kept the Australian vines, while François kept the rest. In recent years, he’s focused heavily on the Chilean operation, where he now spends six months a year.

“It’s nice to settle down, so to speak, and concentrate on something after moving around so much for so long,” said Lurton.

Lurton’s Chilean operation is based in the Lolol area of the Colchagua Valley. With 35 hectares of vines there, plus 10 more hectares in the Santa Cruz section of Colchagua, Lurton currently produces around 50,000 cases a year (there are some purchased grapes brought in to augment production as well). The winery sends about 15 percent of its production to the U.S. market.

Lurton is also another of the growing number of winemakers to convert to biodynamic viticulture—he’s farming his Lolol estate biodynamically, while the rest of his vines are organically farmed.

“It’s been quite easy to make the change in Chile, since there is basically no disease pressure. Maybe a little oïdium, but that’s it,” he said of weaning his vineyards off of herbicide and pesticides.

During this period over the past three years, Lurton said he’s seen a dramatic change in the quality of the fruit, with the grapes showing better acidity and the wines having better aromas.

“Since 2008, I haven’t had to adjust [the acidity] during fermentation, and that’s the first time ever since I’ve been in Chile. The pHs are naturally lower now, which is great, because when you adjust during the vinification, the wines don’t age as well. I am really happy with this change,” he said.

“I think ’08, ’09 and ’10 are the best wines I’ve made in Chile yet. There’s color and structure, yes, but I’m more impressed with the amplitude of the aromas,” said Lurton.

Most of Lurton’s wines are modestly priced ($30 or less, with many under $15) and they’ve typically rated in the "good" category (80 to 84 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale). There have been some flashes of more significant success, such as the outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley Gran Araucano 2001 and Chardonnay Colchagua Valley Gran Araucano 2002. But in general, I’ve been waiting for this property to kick into high gear, especially considering Lurton’s ample experience in the wine business. The key may be in Lurton’s recent change of focus. We shall see.

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

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