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.
READ PART 1 HERE!!!
After settling in- without jet-lag for once!- we were ready to see some vines! Santiago is about 4 hours away from where LA is based in the Maule Valley, and this would be our first of many insanely long drives.
If you're unfamiliar with Chile's geography, it's a uniquely laid out country. Bordering Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, it is extremely long and narrow.
LA's work focuses on three regions: the Maule Valley, the Bío Bío Valley and the Itata Valley. While driving down South, we had plenty of time to catch up on LA's vinous beginnings (if you haven't already, read his interview here for more insight).
The first wine LA ever made was some Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere in 2004 from grapes bought in vrac. Having worked with Phillipe Pacalet, he'd wanted to ferment them off their native yeasts but was forbidden to by the winery's enologist.
"He brought me to his office to have a "serious" talk about the need to yeast and re-acidify. The winery he worked for vinified the equivalent of 400 hectares of wine, so he was totally in an industrial mindset."
LA bought the finished wine back from this winery, and these were to be the first two Clos Ouvert wines.
Around this point in the drive, we drove past the vineyards of Don Francisco, the world famous host of Sabado Gigante.
Seriously, google Don Francisco wine.
As the long drive whirled along, LA mentioned that the wood industry, specifically pine trees, is a huge part of Chile's economy. Used for cellulose and paper, the increased demand and resulting specialization has meant that a huge amount of the country's native woods were torn out to make way for these conifers. Pay attention to the pictures in the upcoming recaps (including the one at the start of this post), and you'll notice that pine trees are intricately tied to Chilean scenery.
"It's green everywhere and blends into the scenery so you don't notice as much, but these are NOT the native trees of Chile! To me, this is the biggest environmental disaster this country faces."
With lunch time approaching, we stopped by one of LA's favorite restaurants, Las Brisas de Loncomilla.
The first thing I noticed was at least 5 dogs just hanging around outside.
My favorite was this little creature.
Naturally, I had to give her a nice belly-rub to prove it.
Shortly after sitting down, a man named Walter (who works with local farmers) dropped 3 Pipeños from a potentially new supplier. The best one came in a 3 liter coke bottle.
It might strike you as unorthodox, but keep in mind that the Pipeño wines are not typically bottled and this is how they are served. In fact, when we taste with LA each year to make our buying decisions, he always brings his samples in soda bottles.
The 3 liter Paìs went down real smooth, but the two others, from grapes picked much later, were still in bubbling in their primary fermentation stages.
After lunch, it was time to visit our first vineyard! We set things off at Truqilemu, the parcel where LA buys his Carignan.
Upon arrival, we were gruffly greeted by Walter Orillana, the owner of the vines.
I'm not really sure why he needed his rifle, but he held on to it the entire time of our visit. Which is probably why I never got that close to him when taking his picture.
Truquilemu is the flattest vineyard LA works with. The vines vary in age, but he sources from those that are between 70 and 80 years old.
The soils are composed of clay and sands.
LA explained that Carignan has been grown in Chile since 1860, but wasn't really developed until the 1940's. He's been buying fruit from Waldo since 2009, and purchases the equivalent of 1.5 hectares.
All in all, Waldo might have uttered 10 words the entire time we were there. But LA reassured me that his other suppliers are much friendlier.
"Waldo is the least sympathetic guy I work with: he never talks, always wants to angle business and is as friendly as a prison cell. But he works well and the fruit is beautiful."
From Truquilemu, we set off to Quenehuao, the site that produces Paìs di Quenehuao.
For those unfamiliar with the Paìs de line, LA only makes them from Paìs, the original grape planted by the conquistadores hundreds of years ago. This single vineyard line is meant to highlight the most singular, unique terroirs he works with.
Luyt is the only person making single vineyard expressions of Paìs, and originally caught a lot of flack for this. You see, the grape is de-classified for use as a single-varietal in all of Chile, and thus cannot produce appellation wine. It commonly denounced for being a lowly, inferior grape that can at best result in mediocrity.
But LA never really believed what others told him:
"The conquistadores were well educated and intentioned in their plantings. You had clergy members observing and bringing those observations back to Spain in order to make agricultural decisions. So when you tell me Paìs is a shitty grape that doesn't make sense here, it just doesn't add up to me. These guys knew what they were doing."
Anyhow onto the Quenehuao visit!
The vineyards we were about to visit were owned by Luis Gardeweg, an eccentric engineer who passed away last year. Before visiting the vines, we checked a still functional wool factory from parts he brought back from Europe in the 1950's and 1960's.
This is where LA gets a lot of his sweet sweaters. On to the vines!
Quenehuao's vines are grown on red clay with granitic subsoils.
The vines are approximately 250 YEARS OLD.
"There are no official records for the age of the vines, but you can make a fairly accurate estimate by examining the woods."
When I asked why some vines were much bigger than others, LA elaborated:
"The vines aren't all huge because when a wood becomes too gnarly, underproductive or broken, you let a new shoot grow from the bottom and eventually trim or snap off the old wood. Think of it as cutting your hair: it's the same rootstock coming from the same place but you need to touch it up every once in a while."
Phylloxera never affected Chile, so all the vines are franc de pied off native rootstock.
Rabbit shit is everywhere, serving as a natural fertilizer.
Quenehuao is name of the area, but for the wine LA is referring to the hill we visited, characterised by terraced vineyards on its sides as well as its flatter top. Because of its myriad of different expositions and granitic soils , it reminds LA of Morgon's Côte du Py in Beaujolais.
"When Marcel (Lapierre) came to visit, this was the vineyard that confirmed to him that I was onto something special out here."
If you'd read the interview I linked to earlier, you would know that LA befriended Mathieu Lapierre in oenology school and spent many years in the Lapierre's vineyards and cellar before returning to Chile for good.
All this talking about Marcel got LA into zen mode next to a particularly beautiful vine.
This inspired Keven Clancy, who also got in the mix.
The spirit was so strong that even I got into the mix.
"The vines are so healthy here. The only product they've ever been exposed to is a minuscule amount of sulfur. It's not like the old vines in Europe that you can tell are on their last legs."
Luyt has been harvesting fruit from Quenehuao's terraces for 9 years now.
On our way out from the property, Miguel and Gringa made sure we were well on our way.
From Quenehuao, we drove to Chillán, the city were Luyt is based. Before getting home, we swung by the super market to grab some delicious box wine.
Naw, just kidding. Instead we had some Luyt rarities like this 2008 sans-souffre Chardonnay that took two years to ferment:
And a 2008 Clos Ouvert, the first wine we ever imported from Luyt!
It was a hell of a first day!
A la proxima por la parte 3!
In the seven years we've worked with Louis-Antoine Luyt, he's become a fixture in our lives: he regularly visits the United States to promote his wines and can be seen galavanting around the Dive Bouteille each winter. We see him probably as much as as anyone else we work with, but up until this recent trip, the opportunity to go visit him hadn't come up.
Getting to Chile had proven to be a challenge. Louis/Dressner is a company firmly rooted in Western Europe, and if you've followed my writing over the years, you know we spend a lot of time there. When in France and Italy, we can easily cover a lot of ground, visiting dozens of growers in a couple of weeks. But with LA as our sole South-American estate, bringing the team to Chile seemed just out of reach.
But after seven years and a strong, justified insistence from LA, it was finally time to visit. I asked him how many days I needed to be there to see everything, and he said 9. So with the dates set, I set off for Santiago.
After a relatively smooth flight (numbed by the sheer idiocy of Zoolander 2), I met up with LA and our travel-mate Keven Clancy of Farm Wine Imports and drove to LA's friend Tanguy to settle in.
Tanguy (pronounced TON-GHEE and not TAN GUY) is French, has lived in Santiago for 15 years and runs a successful catering company called Happy Crêpe. That's him on national television, which aired live on my last day in Chile. Apparently one of the hosts said: "You look like Kevin Costner. Why do you makes crêpes?"
If you make crêpes, they will come.
After a short nap, we set off to 99, one of the guys' favorite Santiago restaurants.
Lunch was delicious and cost 15 dollars.
LA had an appointment to show wine, but before that he wanted to show us his friend Diego's art gallery. We hopped into Tanguy's van (which reeked due to a recent explosion of eggs in the back seat), but it wouldn't start! Turns out he'd parked illegally and left his headlights on, thus entirely draining his battery. We tried to give the van a nice heave-ho but it was a no-go. Fortunately, LA has a local cab-driver friend who came to the rescue within minutes.
From there, we headed the art gallery Mutt to meet Diego.
If you've ever drank one of LA's Pipeño wines, you are familiar with Diego's work. He's the one that designed the label.
Anyway, here's some Diego art.
I wasn't feeling great that day so we headed home and I slept from 8pm to 9am the next morning. It did the trick.
Stay tuned for Part 2!