READ PART 1, PART 2,PART 3, PART 4, PART 5, PART 6 and PART 7.
No, this did not suddenly become a California post. Los Angeles is a tiny sector of the Bìo Bìo that used to be densely planted in vines. Today, LA estimates only 30 to 50 hectares remain.
After yet another long drive from Chillàn, we got lost and drove up and down this road a million times.
"Shit, this never happens to me!"
In this very rare case, LA's mental GPS had failed him and we had to ask for directions at Provisiones Don Leo.
I'm not sure if the pan was any good, and wished I had a little more time to gamble on Leo's machines.
Finally, after a little more searching, we were at the Los Angeles parcel!
The vines here were abandoned in 1955, with the owners opting to replant wheat and other cereals. One problem though: the vines kept growing back. For decades, the owner was convinced they were annoying shrubs.
"I started working with this vineyard through the owner's uncle (note: the owner of the Quenehuao vineyard). When I came to visit, we quickly noticed that the shrubby vines growing from the soil were aligned, confirming this was once a dedicated vineyard. I'd estimate the vines to be anywhere between 200 and 300 years old; the owner kept lopping the woods, but the roots are simply too deep to tear out! They kept coming back!"
The soils here are pure sand, making for a fruity, glou-glou wine.
Before our last vine visit, we grabbed lunch at this place.
Along with our chicken stew, we got to enjoy a shitty 40 Oz of beer.
From lunch, we headed to the Portozuelo sector to visit some newly discovered Cinsault vines.
The Cinsault was essentially a prelude to our visit to see more beautiful Paìs! But first we had to walk for a while on this private pass.
After about 15 minutes, we spotted an employee roasting some chestnuts by the concrete vinification vats.
A little more walking led to another beautiful pic.
After almost 20 minutes on foot, we'd arrived!
The next day, we visited a producer that we don't import, so I won't talk about it. I did take the best picture of the trip there though:
Driving back to Santiago, the sky was on fire.
We started the night at LA's friend Flacco, an architect, university professor and accomplished DJ in a past life.
He had a NY section in his vinyl collection, and we waxed poetic (pun intended) about LCD Soundsystem and Metro Area.
From there, we went to another friend's house whose name I can't remember, but who had a really fancy turntable and some good tunes as well.
Old pieces of art from Louis-Antoine's beginnings were on proud display:
It was a really fun night.
CONCLUSION: What Louis-Antoine Luyt has accomplished over the last decade is nothing short of incredible, and I hope I was able to transmit this in this series of blog posts. He's brought life to forgotten vines in forgotten lands. He's championed Paìs, the grape that started it all. He's given us the opportunity to drink wine made from 300 year old vines for the first time. He's encouraged farmers to value their land in a climate that does the exact opposite. It's an honor to be represent him and share his vision with you all.
READ PART 1, PART 2,PART 3, PART 4, PART 5 and PART 6.
In what was perhaps the longest day of driving in my life, after our visit to Santa Juana (about 3 hours from Chillán) we drove 5 hours South to visit the Coteaux de Trumao project.
Spend a little time examining that label, then compare it to the pictures below. It will all make sense.
Coteaux de Trumao was founded by two French brothers, Christophe and Olivier Porte, in the early 2000's.
The brothers live at the top of the gorgeous coteau that inspired the estate.
Olivier and his wife live in the house to the left of the talapa.
Christophe and his wife live to the right of it, just out of sight.
The talapa itself is absolutely gorgeous:
Check out this amazing coal rotisserie action.
Gotta spin those ducks!
Over dinner, we got to hear the Porte's Chilean origin story. Their parents had left France to raise cattle in Chile, and both brothers joined them after college in their early 20's. They both worked in the family business for about 10 years, with Christophe eventually branching out into his own project of running a gold mining operation. Pardon the shitty pun, but it was anything but a goldmine; after nearly a decade he found himself nearly dead broke.
Olivier was still working in cattle but wanted a change of pace, so the brothers decided to become partners in a new venture. They founded a wood plant in 1990, which continues to exist to this day. Parallel to their professional lives, a love of Chilean wine was developing, particularly for the Paìs of the 80's. And despite their increasing disillusionment with spoofy 90's winemaking (particularly new oak), the Porte bros eventually felt the urge to start a vinous project of their own. This was right around the time they'd settled on building their new homes on the property where the vines now grow.
"We had already decided to build the houses and talapa on this gorgeous, isolated hill off the Río Bueno. One day, while walking around, Oliver and I spotted a single, old vine that had not been torn out. This was a sign to us: clearly vines had been planted here in the past."
They hired a consultant who proceeded to plant Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
"Again, we had no idea what we were doing. But it became very clear early on that the Pinot was reacting the best to the land, as well as making the best wine."
Though the vines have always been worked organically, the first few vintages (never released commercially) were vinified conventionally and proved uninteresting. In 2007, the Porte brother's good friend Lucien (remember him from PART 4?) put them in touch with Louis-Antoine Luyt, who made the long drive down to visit.
"I was immediately drawn to the beauty of the land and the potential of the terroir. It was clear that Pinot Noir worked really well here: it's right off a river, giving the vines the coolness they need. Furthermore, the soils of compacted, volcanic ash react positively to the variety."
Here are pics of said soil:
LA agreed to help to partner up with Porte brothers. The first step involved replanting the entirety of the estate to Pinot Noir in 2005. After three years of letting the youngest vines grow, he vinified for the first time in 2008. Today, the wine is being man by a young Frenchman named Quentin Javoy, who is to the left of Louis-Antoine in the picture below:
In the dusk of the early morning, we set out to visit the vines.
But first, we had to meet the big guy whose names dotes the bottle: Cruchon!
That's right, this wine is named after a dog. So I like more now.
We started at the very top of the hill.
Planted in 2009, these are the youngest vines of the estate.
Because phylloxera never affected Chile, all the plantings are in franc de pied.
"We simply planted the canes and waited."
The 2009 vines are particularly suffering: at 7 years old and barely producing. Still, it was LA and the Porte's choice not to irrigate these young plants, something you almost never see in Chile. The positive side is that it forces them to create deep root systems, which will pay off in the long run.
For now the soils are not being worked, because they don't want grass re-growing and creating competition for the vines.
"Next year we want to start using discs to cut the grass."
You can't spot it because of the mist, but the Bueno river borders the property.
Planted in 2000, the oldest vines are at the very bottom of the hill. Many have been propagated with marcottage.
Quentin, the young Loire native who now is in charge of the Cruchon project, explained that the viticulture is organic, with only contact products touching the vineyards. Odium is the biggest problem due to the proximity to the river and big temperature dips from day to night. Other than that, Quentin makes many herbal preparations from plants surrounding the vineyards.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the Chile Chronicles!
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."