I was invited to Santiago to address about 60 wineries on Social Media Marketing in the U.S. Wine industry in a seminar put on by Wines of Chile. WoC were kind enough to assign me a driver to visit seven wineries over the next two days, most of which hadn’t been able to attend the seminar.
Chile reminded me of Napa about 20 years ago…most everyone I met was younger than 35, the level of technical oenological knowledge was amazing, their search for and experimentation with new viticulture areas was nothing short of passionate and relentless…and there’s a lot of territory in which to search for terroir. Also many of the operators I met are family companies (Cousiño Macul is 7th generation), or else owned or backed by money folks from the major industries in Chile…mining, shipping, telecom etc.
We were doing a tasting at one of the smaller but cutting edge technology oriented wineries when my host Max Darraidou pointed to the old vines…which were planted in 1999. He and oenologist Ignacio Casali are doing some fabulous work identifying soils, varietal clones, hillside orientation and microclimate patterns in the Leyda Valley, home to the eponymously named winery.
The folks at Santa Carolina really demonstrated the warmth of the Chilean character with an American flag flying in concert with their national banner to welcome me at the winery entrance. The energy and enthusiasm in the room were palpable, and we all toasted Richie Scelfo, an old friend who represents them in the U.S. with Carolina Brands USA at a fabulous lunch of Chilean specialties…I had my first taste of Chirimoya, a native fruit there, but scant time to finish it because our focus was on talking…that’d be me doing the talking.
I also met with the Santa Rita winery whose business offices are in Santiago, and another family operation from down south named Viña Maquis which is doing some really interesting things with Rose’s and dessert wines along with their table wines. They hosted a dinner at a very innovative restaurant in an beautiful old part of town where the rich folks lived in the late 1800’s and is now being taken over by artists.
The next day was a whirlwind of tastings with a lunch at the organic and soon to be biodynamic Matetic where winemaker Paula Cardenas hosted me at the winery’s restaurant. I had my first taste of Loco…a local seafood delicacy that was explained to me as being “like Abalone” but was really just a VERY LARGE SEA SNAIL. They don’t call it loco for nothing…you have to be crazy to eat it. A visit to the hacienda of Viña Mar capped off the trip. It’s located between the coastal range and the Andes and the hacienda was a beautiful building in the center of vineyards…sort of like a South American version of Falcon Crest for those of you who are old enough to remember the old TV show. Another flight of spectacular wines with Melissa Hahn and winemaker Patricio Celadon and I was off to the airport and home.
Bottom line, I went down there with no real sense of what makes Chile, well Chile. And I came away with a newfound respect for a country that may be somewhat unknown, but is clearly on the cutting edge of responding to the changes we’re seeing in the American wine consumer. A nod to Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 for borrowing her QPR tag in the headline. It stands for “Quality Price Ratio” which I suppose doesn’t need any further definition. QPR is what American wine consumers are looking for, and I found a whole country that delivers it. How cool is that?