READ PART 1, PART 2,PART 3, PART 4 and PART 5.
After an extensive tour of the Maule Valley, it was time to spend some time in the Bìo Bìo Valley! Our first stop was in the sector of Yumbel to visit Tito Saavedra.
Surprise: this area produces...
Anyhow, the Bìo Bìo itself is a river, and the region is divided into two main sectors. Some, like Yumbel, have sandy volcanic soils. Other parts are more similar to the Maule, with limestone and granite. It rains more in Bìo Bìo than in the Maule, but it's still very hot. Because there is less industrial farming here than the Maule, you find a lot less french grapes. Bìo Bìo is dead in the center of Chile, and has some of the oldest vines in the country.
On to Tito's vines:
The soils consist of light clay and decomposed granite, and are much darker than any other site we'd visited.
These Paìs vines were planted in 1580!!!!!!
"The vines here are incredible. But I still feel Tito overworks them. A huge challenge with farmers is convincing them to prune for lower yields. In their minds, a good harvest is a plentiful one."
LA and Tito have been having pruning conversations that would reduce yields by 30%, in turn sacrificing quantity for quality. It's a recurring conversation with all of his suppliers; most are willing to compromise and do this on the vines LA purchases fruit from, but not the entirety of their land.
From the vines, we checked out Tito's "cellar" to try his Pipeño.
Check out this elaborate stool setup to get up to the lagar.
Ouuuhhh, a puppy!
It was time to taste Tito's Pipeño straight out of a big plastic jug.
It was fruity and spicy with nice structure. This is important to note since Tito's finished wine is what will be bottled as the 2016 Pipeño Yumbel.
"Sometimes I buy made wine, sometimes I buy the grapes to make the wine myself. I know Tito makes a good Pipeño without any bacterial issues so I trust his finished product. It would be great in the long term to buy the wine directly from everyone, but the challenge is being able to bottle very fast. Pipeños are all about freshness, and you don't want to lose that."
In 2016, Yumbel will be the only huaso-made wine we import the the US. Everything else was vinified by LA. From Yumbel, we were off to the Santa Juana sector. But first, we had to take a river ferry across the Bìo Bìo!
LA was relieved that it was the guy he liked working the ferry.
"There are two guys who work this job, and they both despise each other. The other guy is a total dick."
Once we were on the other side of the river, we took some dirt roads to the middle of nowhere. The drive brought us right to this closed gate.
Already there was a nice view.
Could we be in Santa Juana? The place that produces:
We were! After a few minutes, the lovely Luis Burgos let us in.
Before checking out the vines, we had to pop into Luis' house to meet his wife and proprietor of the land Sara. She was busy whipping up some home-made empanadas!!!!!
This was probably the most excited I've ever been writing about food on a trip.
But before eating, we had to see vines! This isolated plot of land is hands down one of the most beautiful I've laid eyes on.
Amongst some of the flatter vines, an entire box of harvested Paìs had been forgotten.
"I honestly think they just forgot it."
The soils here are similar to Coronel del Maule: red clay with decomposed gravel and flint. The vines used to be worked with systemics, but LA and his team have helped convert the land back to organic viticulture. Luyt comes with his team each year to prune, green harvest and pick grapes.
While Sara kept cooking, Luis served us a little bit of his Semillon for apero.
We also got to try his Merlot straight from huge plastic barrel.
My notes say: "Fresh, juicy juicy."
We also tried a Malbec, which was darker but still very easy to drink.
By this time we were starving, so we checked up on Sara and her empanadas.
They were SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I lost track but I think I ate six.
And of course it needed to be accompanied by some Pipeño!
Don't worry, it was Sara's, not Santa Rita.
Sara used to make the Santa Juana Pipeño herself, but didn't feel like making it this year, so LA bought her grapes instead.
"She's getting older but not letting herself slow down. She's always saying yes to every project thrown her way. However making the wine has become too time consuming. Luis makes his personal stash and that's enough for them."
Before saying goodbye, we had to take some goodbye pics:
And polish off that Pipeño:
By the way, I wasn't joking about those dirt roads:
READ PART 1, PART 2,PART 3 AND PART 4.
From Pilen, we headed to the Coronel del Maule sector of the Maule valley to visit Raoul Perez.
From the moment we pulled into the farm, it was clear there was a special connection between Raoul and LA.
"Raoul is my biggest inspiration. We've had our ups and downs, but the trust is there and our our bond is unbreakable. This sector (Coronel del Maule) was the area that originally inspired me to make wine in Chile, and I am so happy to have met him."
After some nice helloes, it was time to check the vines.
On the way up, the Raoul/LA bonding continued.
When LA met Raoul, he was on the verge of abandoning his 1.5 hectares of Paìs.
"He simply felt it was too much work for what he could get paid for."
In a stark contrast to Raoul's beautiful vines (which, for some reason, always keep their foliage very late in the season), here is a picture of his neighbor's chemically farmed parcel.
I prefer these.
The contrast is even crazier in this pic:
The vines are at least 300 years old, and grow on soils of clay with decomposed gravel and flint.
"The roots go down 80 meters."
It was lunch time, and Raoul graciously invited us into his home. Before we could eat, we had to taste his Pipeño!
It was made in this lagar!
The wine is a blend of Paìs, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was delicious, fresh with herbal notes.
It also went really well with his wife's soup, made from their farm-grown garbanzo beans and hominy.
It is traditional to have soup AFTER the main dish in Chile, which I'm a big fan of. This was also my first opportunity of the trip to flex my "I'll have seconds" skills. Works every time at pleasing the cook!
During lunch, a rather amusing conversation revolved around Raoul trying LA's Coronel del Maule Pipeño each year and always saying: "It' ok. It's not as good as mine!"
Both are delicious, but LA admits that Raoul has a "slight" advantage: he's been making wine from this land since he was a teenager. I asked if Raoul ever sells some of his wine to locals or friends, and LA translated that he'd prefer giving it away.
"Most people don't care about the hard work and effort, and don't even know what they would be paying for. They just want some wine. And if they don't buy it from me, they will buy it from someone else. So I'd rather give it to them so they can enjoy."
Apparently, in Luyt terminology, "coffee" translates to "another glass of Pipeño". This was a good excuse to try a traditional beverage/porridge/energy drink consisting of Pipeño, toasted wheat and honey.
It was pretty good. After lunch, I made sure to give Raoul a big hug with the Huaso hat he gave me.
Raoul is the best. Here are pictures of his dogs for no reason other than I like taking pictures of dogs.
From Raoul's, we headed to another sector within Coronel del Maule called Pichihuedque. Here, we visited Miguel Alvear.
When we got to Miguel's, his entire family was huddled up eating boar stew from a beast slain just that morning.
They asked if we wanted some. After requesting a little taste, we got 3 huge plates. Second lunch was good (and quite honestly a little too filling), but permitted us to try Miguel's Pipeño, made from this huge lagar that can hold up to 18,000 liters!
"No chemicals. Natural."
Unsurprisingly, it was very tasty.
Moving along, Miguel's farm was quite a scene.
There were huge oxen everywhere.
Miguel insisted they were very nice and that I could even pet them, but I'll admit I wasn't reassured with this guy giving me the stanky eye.
Keep in mind that picture was zoomed in.
From Miguel's farm, we set off to check out the Paìs that produce:
This sector is much more marked by heavy clay, with much less decomposed granite and quartz than we'd seen in other areas.
"Because of the heavier clay, you get wines that are more on the fruit here, with less smokiness than Pilen or even Raoul's."
The second parcel we visited from Miguel had much redder clay.
The heavy clay, combined with the day's on and off rain, had made for treacherous driving. The car we'd rented was capable of much, but wasn't four wheel drive. For a moment it looked like we might get stuck. Fortunately, Miguel was ready for anything:
"Don't worry, I have oxen. They've got four wheel drive: with big hoofs and horns."
Our last stop of the day was Sergio Perez, who makes the delicious:
Look, here's the tinaja that made it!
Anyhow, this is the awesome Sergio Perez!
Nice hat Sergio! When we got to his house, we woke him up from his afternoon nap. If that day was anything to go on, he has no problem sleeping through the very loud music coming from his boombox.
In an unprecedented moment in this blog's history, I took a picture of a cat!
Too cute to pass up.
Anyhow, Sergio was supposed to press his Pipeño grapes the day we got there, but his employees didn't show up, so he didn't. But that didn't mean we weren't going to taste it!
In an impressive move, Sergio put together a natural filter by taking a bunch of stems directly from the lagar and jamming them on top of a fire hose.
My, oh my was it tasty!
Sergio is 79, and has been making wine since he is 12.
"I make Pipeño to give the workers something to drink right away. My Tinaja wines are the ones you can age."
Speaking of his employees, Sergio locks all of his doors because they are "drunk idiots." Maybe if he stopped giving them all that Pipeño, they'd be more trustworthy? Or maybe they need Mormonism in their lives?
After some Pipeño, we tried his eau de vie from barrel.
The single barrel was tucked away in an interestingly decorated room.
In what is perhaps the most bizarre advertisement I've ever seen, here is one for A BUTCHER SHOP pinned to the wall.
FOR A BUTCHER SHOP!
And even better, look who was right next to sexy butcher lady.
Here's four more pics from Sergio's I wanted to share but had absolutely no way to work in:
It was the end of a long day, and we were finally on our way home. Here some choice quotes from Louis-Antoine.
"Coronel is my center, my home base. It is my favorite part of the Maule. If only I could figure out how to make wine like these guys!"
"I know the Beaujolais and Coronel del Maule. And I prefer Coronel del Maule!"
"The people there are the crème de la crème. They are still human. They are independant. They are welcoming. They are kind. They don't judge you. They are everything good about peasantry. This is my family."
READ PART 1, PART 2 AND PART 3.
On our fourth day in Chile, we started our day in a sector called Tomenelo to check out Elena Pantaleoni's Chilean side project.
It was fiercely guarded by the terrifying watch dog Chip.
All in all, 27 hectares of vines are planted mostly in Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. Way back in 2007 and 2008, Louis-Antoine actually made a Clos Ouvert wine from this vineyard.
The 2007 we tried later that night was tasty!
While on the road, LA explained that at this point in time, he is working purely on a négociant model, purchasing fruit at an unheard of 3 times the market rate. However, he is more directly involved than most négociants with many of the parcels' viticulture, participating in pruning, green harvesting and picking. For plowing and day to day work, he trusts his suppliers.
"Everything is so spread out. I can't be everywhere at once."
Before setting out to discover more vines, we decided to visit LA's friend Lucien.
Lucien, a jolly guy in his 70's, is originally from Savoie. Around 30 years ago, he got sick of France, so he built a wood boat and sailed it to Chile. Since he's clearly good at building things, he founded a wood shop that makes some truly unique, beautiful pieces.
Everything is hand-made. Thin slices of wood are carved, pressed together, then polished and touched up.
He also still makes boats.
It was a quick visit, and Lucien was very disappointed we hadn't brought a bottle to drink.
"That's the modern world. Always on your way somewhere else. Always late."
For the record, it was 10 in the morning. And yes, we were late. Late to check out the stunning vineyards that produce:
After some dirt road action, LA stopped in the woods and told us we'd have to do the rest of the trip by foot.
It had been raining, so the ground was quite slippery.
"Even under better circumstances, it is impossible to get here with a car. During harvest we use an ox cart to bring the grapes back up."
During our walk, LA pointed out an exposed patch of rocks that revealed Pilen's subsoils:
We'd seen a lot of red clay already, but Pilen is particularly marked by iron.
After a solid 15 minute walk, we arrived to the first of 3 parcels of 200 year old Paìs.
The soils here are red granite, red clay and schist. At 580 meters of elevation, Pilen is truly a mountain vineyard.
Here are pictures from the equally beautiful second parcel.
These two parcels belong to a young man named Leonel Diaz.
He lives with his parents in one of the only two houses in the immediate vicinity (the town is a 20 minute walk away).
Leonel owns a lagar that he uses occasionally to make Pipeño.
And this tinaja (amphora), though it doesn't seem to be getting much use these days...
From Leonel's we took a short walk to the only other house in the vicinity.
There, we were greeted by the lovely Margarita Leon.
Margarita was very busy! First off, she was making food for her dogs.
This little guy was patiently waiting for his meal while sitting on a big bag.
Then she had to check on her tinaja to give her Pipeño a nice stirring.
And what about ALL THOSE CHICKENS????
But most importantly, Margarita was working on her main hustle, making hand-made plates and bowls from Pilen's abundant red clay.
Little did I know that I'd been eating out of her handiwork every night at Louis' house!
Just below Margarita's house are her and her husband's vines.
Some of the Paìs, for reasons LA could not understand, had not been harvested.
"They probably just had too much left."
Check out this 200 year old beauty.
Anyhow, that's it for now!
READ PART 1 AND PART 2.
Louis-Antoine Luyt lives off an unmarked, unpaved dirt-road in the outskirts of Chillàn with his wife Dorothée and three kids: Antoine, Mathilde and Benoit.
They also have four beautiful dogs: Mr Pickles, Bazooka, Ron and Jane (only three pictured).
Though I would later find out this is fairly common, dozens of chickens freely roam the yard.
And let's not forgot Oinky, the lovable pig with a heart of gold.
On our third day in Chile, we were feeling the beginnings of winter: besides the sun setting at 6pm (the result of a just passed daylight saving time), it was foggy, rainy and cold!
Undeterred, we set out to Louis-Antoine's cellar to see where the magic happens.
LA shares this cellar with Viña Chillán, another winery focusing on organically grown vines surrounding the property.
A plethora of international grapes are planted here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Paìs, Syrah, Carmenere and Malbec. Some of these LA vinifies in micro quantities as a side-project:
Stepping into the cellar, I spotted some familiar bottles!
The main room mainly consists of large stainless steel and fiberglass tanks.
However there are also a large amount of plastic lagars.
Check out that sweet sweater/beanie combo from the Quenehuao wool factory!
Anyhow, a lagar typically refers to a stone trough with an open top, but can also mean plastic or, as is more common in Chile, large wood vats.
As you can see, LA has all three. Since starting his Pipeño project in 2013 (old vine País from different sectors bottled in liters), the traditional huaso style of open-top vinification has deeply affected his cellar practices.
"When I started, I worked exclusively with cold carbonic macerations because that was the only way I really knew how to make wine. In fact, I remember the first time I met your father (the late Joe Dressner), we got into a huge argument about it, with him screaming at me that all I did was carbo, carbo, carbo! He still ended up buying the wines anyway!"
The vinifications have shifted to include some carbonic, but at this point are mainly whole-cluster or de-stemmed macerations with regular pigeages. In some cases, Luyt vinifies parts of the same harvest separately and blends at the end for more balance. The macerations are much shorter than probably any one else in Chile, leading to a noticeably less extracted style. It also doesn't hurt that he harvests 3 weeks to a month before the average winery...
"Making a Pipeño is a violent form of vinification. We de-stem and then do nothing. Everything happens really fast."
In a way, the Pipeño approach shares similarities with the hands off, semi-carbonic vinifications of the Beaujolais (famously dubbed by Marcel Lapierre as "lazy man's winemaking"). But working with open-top containers (which remain open throughout vinification, in itself much more of a challenge), has shown LA that it was time to reevaluate his winemaking practices.
"I think my separate vinifications, playing with pigeages, de-stemming and whole cluster, short macerations, long macerations, blends... It's partly experimentation, but I do believe it adds complexity to the vines. Since moving away from carbonic macerations, I've had to find my own way."
We spent our morning tasting wine, which isn't particularly interesting so I'll spare you. More interesting was our lunch!
Every day, LA and his team have lunch just a few 100 meters away in this "clandestine restaurant".
LA has struck an agreement with the lovely Angelica (pictured in the middle) to make daily meals for his team.
"Her husband is a farmer, and she cooks for his team, the Chillán team and mine. She's the best."
Her homemade sopaipillas were banging, as was her chicken stew.
Tea was heated right off the furnace.
The whole room had some funky details.
My favorite was a picture of a decapitated pig head in a bucket next to happy family pictures.
After lunch, we drove for over to the Coelemu vineyard that produces Gorda Blanca and the Pipeño Coelemu.
The steep hill pictured above is 300 year old Paìs that have never been exposed to chemicals. The soils consist of heavy red clay with decomposed quartz and granite subsoils, and are worked by horse.
The vines are within a private property of a very wealthy couple's country house (which can be spotted to the left of the picture below.
"They are here maybe one month a year. I'm not sure what their incentive was, but they've always worked the vines with tremendous respect. I'd actually been looking in this sector for quite some time, but was having no luck. They are the ones who contacted me."
Further along the path, another extremely sleep hill is home to 300 year old Moscatel (Moscato d'Alexandria) and some old vine Paìs.
As you can see, the vines here are very sparse.
On our way back home, we drove through a sector called Juarilue, which apparently is very... MORMON?
Apparently, this sector of the Bìo Bìo was once one of Chile's most prolific viticultural regions. But when the wood industry began gaining major traction, the cellulose companies realized they needed to sober up the locals, many of whom had a reputation for over indulging in the fruits of their labors. So they started subsidizing churches hoping to get people off the hooch. And I guess it worked!
To be fair, you don't want your workers to be hammered when chainsawing huge trees.
Within this sector, we were supposed to visit a newly sourced parcel of Cinsault but got lost for over an hour on dirt roads. LA never uses a GPS to get anywhere because these parcels are not searchable. It's an impressive skill, but in this case didn't pan out according to plan...
Still, we got some redemption by ending our day with the Figeroa family.
The Cinsault parcel we were trying to visit was theirs. Instead, we checked some of their Chasselas (yes, Chasselas) and Moscatel and pet their crazy eyed dog.