The magnificent seven

08 February, 2008

A new generation of Chilean winemakers is working with a wider range of grapes and regions, and the different challenges that this presents. Patricia Langton takes a tour from north to south to meet seven of them.

Felipe Müller, head winemaker, Tabalí winery, Limarí Valley

Key wines: The Tabalí Reserva range, including the Especial blend (Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot) and a late-harvest wine.

Career to date: Müller studied agronomy at the University of Chile and achieved a distinction in oenology and viticulture. His career got off to a great start when he joined Viña De Martino as second winemaker and worked closely with one of Chile's best -known winemakers, Marcelo Retamal. Between 2001 and 2005 he worked two harvests in Bordeaux, visited other French regions and the key Australian wine regions.

Current role and challenges: At De Martino, Müller and Retamal established a source of around 350 vineyards throughout Chile, including the up-and-coming Limarí Valley, the furthest north of Chile's wine regions along with the Elqu í Valley. So Müller was well placed to take up his current role at the impressive Tabalí winery, Viña San Pedro's flagship winery, and switched Santiago for the tranquillity of La Serena.

Located 400km from the Chilean capital, this region is famous for its clear skies. Sea breezes cool a hot, dry area which, combined with frost-free springs, makes it ideal for viticulture.

Müller says: "Tabalí is a project with enormous potential. So far this has been realised with Chardonnay and Syrah, my personal favourite here, but Limarí has all the conditions to make excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. To achieve this we need to explore new terroirs, plantings, clones and styles."

UK importer: Boutinot 0161 908 1300


Francisco Baettig, chief winemaker, Viña Errázuriz, Aconcagua Valley

Key wines: Viñedo Chadwick, Seña, Don Maximiano, La Cumbre, The Blend, Arboleda, Max Reserva and Kai - a new top Carmenère.

Career to date: Baettig studied agronomy at the University of Chile and qualified in winemaking in 1996. He also has a masters degree in oenology from the University of Bordeaux. Highlights of his CV include working the vintage at Hallcrest winery in California in 1997, Le Bon Pasteur, Pomerol, in 1999, and making wine for Laroche in the Languedoc. He has worked for several Chilean wineries and joined Errázuriz in 2003.

Current role and challenges: Baettig says his role is to "manage a team of great professionals in order to make the best wines in each range - and to show the potential of the Aconcagua Valley".

He adds: "The valley features different 'little valleys', allowing us to make wines of many different varieties from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay coming from the coastal areas [near Valpara íso] to Shiraz, Cabernet, Carmenère and others, coming from the warmer, more inland vineyards. The Aconcagua Valley has little rain during the ripening period, allowing us to produce great Shiraz and (fully ripe) Carmenère. It has the influence of the cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean that allow long hang time, ripe, round tannins and good fruit intensity."

New plantings are going ahead in Casablanca and further inland, with both tried and tested and "new " Rhône varieties, along with Tempranillo. However, Cabernet remains Baettig's favourite grape, especially from "good terroirs" and older vines, while the rise in quality of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc has amazed him in recent years.

UK importer: Hatch Mansfield 01344 871800


Andr és Caballero, head winemaker, Viña Casablanca, Casablanca Valley

Key wines: The Nimbus range of single -vineyard wines, notably Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc.

Career to date: Caballero graduated from the University of Chile and cut his winemaking teeth at Rosemount Estate in Australia during the 2000 vintage. He headed up Montes' Apalta winery for five years before joining Viña Casablanca in 2005.

Current role and challenges: Caballero joined Viña Casablanca as a key member of a new team appointed for the Carolina Wine Brands project. It set about restyling the wines and the winemaking and viticultural teams now collaborate closely. They have a source of 250ha in this coastal area.

Caballero says: "My challenge is to find micro-terroirs that reflect the personality of the wines that I want to make. I pick by lot and establish what each will bring to the final blends for the VC range. It takes a lot of micro-management, but the results make it worthwhile."

He singles Syrah out as his most exciting grape: "Especially cool -climate Syrah because the personality of this grape is difficult to get to grips with at first. The fruit flavours and acidity levels differ from most Syrahs on the market, but the potential to make truly outstanding and unique wines is endless."

Caballero is optimistic about prospects for Sauvignon Blanc from the 2008 vintage, while a new Pinot Noir and a sparkling wine are planned for the Nimbus range. The specialist market and a £5-plus price level is his target.

UK importer: Copestick Murray Wine Solutions 01672 519390


Paula Bottero, chief winemaker, Viña Los Robles, Curicó Valley

Key wines: Los Robles Carmenère, Syrah, Merlot rosé and Sauvignon Blanc.

Career to date: Bottero studied agronomy at the University of the Americas (Santiago) and oenology at the University of Chile. In 1999 she worked for California's St Francis Winery and attended oenology classes at UC Davis.

Current role and challenges: Bottero, who joined Fairtrade producer Los Robles in 2006, was attracted to the Curicó Valley due to its great diversity of climates and soils and "a myriad different styles of wines".

She says: "Our challenge is to compete with renowned and prestigious valleys such as Maipo and Colchagua.

"In the Curicó Valley there are two superior grape varieties - Carmenère and Syrah. We get wines from these grapes with mature, soft tannins, great concentration, colour and aromas. They have great potential here."

Bottero is expanding the range of reserva wines from Los Robles and she's also refining the Sauvignon Blanc, which was particularly successful in 2007. A top red blend is also planned for the future.

UK importer: Ehrmanns

020 7418 1800


Paula Cárdenas, winemaker, Matetic Vineyards, San Antonio Valley and Casablanca

Key wines: EQ range - Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Career to date: Cárdenas studied agricultural engineering and oenology at the University of Chile. Her wide overseas experience includes vintages at Matua Valley (NZ), Thelema in South Africa and Château Loudenne in the Médoc. Back home she worked at Viña Errázuriz and William Cole before joining the fledgling Matetic in 2005.

Current role and challenges: Cárdenas is in charge of winemaking at Matetic's impeccable winery in the region of San Antonio, a relative newcomer to Chile's wine map.

Matetic has planted 90ha of vineyards and much of it is managed organically or biodynamically. New plantings of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon are edging closer to the coast to capture the "cool maritime influence" which Cárdenas is excited to see showing in her wines.

She says: "I felt really attracted to Matetic Vineyards because it has pioneered cool-climate Syrah in Chile and has consistently produced one of the best Chilean Pinot Noirs. The terroir here plays an important role in the unique character and distinctive flavours of the Matetic wines."

Biodynamic presents a new challenge, but she has every confidence in the "exciting" grapes - Syrah, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc - that she is working with. She concludes: "We are showing the world that Chile can produce more than Cabernet Sauvignon."

UK importer: Genesis Wines 020 7963 9062


Viviana Navarrete, winemaker, Viña Leyda, Leyda Valley

Key wines: Lot 21 Pinot Noir, Las Brisas Pinot Noir, Loica Pinot Noir rosé, Garuma Sauvignon Blanc.

Career to date: Navarrete graduated from the University of Chile in 2001. She spent more than four years as a winemaker for Concha & Toro with responsibility for higher premium wines and white varieties in particular. In 2007 she joined Viña Leyda, one of the pioneer wineries in the "new " Leyda Valley, 14km from the Pacific Ocean in the San Antonio Valley.

Current role and challenges: Viña Leyda was established in 2001. The maritime influence, constant breezes and clay-poor soils have favoured grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah, and more aromatic varieties are coming on stream - including Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Gris. The focus is increasingly towards high-quality wines.

Navarrete (who took over from Rafael Urrejola) was attracted to Viña Leyda as a "coloniser of new terroir" and for its pioneering spirit. She says: "Leyda Valley has great potential and the fact that it's pretty new makes it even more interesting because it's an exciting challenge.

"My passion is for white varieties and Leyda has all the conditions for making expressive whites with plenty of character, concentrated fruit and good acidity.

"I have also fallen in love with Pinot Noir - it's the most exciting variety for me. This year we are planting 113ha focusing on Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay. We are expecting to have even more concentrated fruit, working with high density and lower yields."

UK importer: Great Western Wine 01225 322800


Rafael Urrejola, winemaker, Viña Undurraga, Maipo Valley

Key wines: TH Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and

TH Maipo Valley Syrah 2006.

Career to date: Urrejola graduated from the University of Chile in 1999 as an agronomist with outstanding results in oenology and viticulture. His overseas experience takes in Carneros and Oregon (US ), Burgundy, Alsace and Bordeaux. He set Viña Leyda on course as its first winemaker from 2001-2007 before taking up his current role at Viña Undurraga.

Current role and challenges: In 2007 a dramatic restructure was completed at Undurraga after a troubled period in the winery's history.

Urrejola was one of a number of new recruits - he was brought in to head up a specific new quality-orient ed project, the Terroir Hunter Project.

He explains: "The TH Project has lead me to search every valley of Chile for the terroir or micro-terroir which will allow me to make a certain wine, with quality prevailing over all other issues and with limited quantities per wine and vintage. I'm now working in more than 20 exciting terroirs with 12 different varieties [including Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay]."

He has also collaborated with the development of a 170ha vineyard in the Leyda Valley, establishing the vineyard in terms of soil, clones, density and orientation with the wines that he wants to make.

As for his favourite wine, he says: "Pinot Noir is the variety that excites me the most. I'm presently making Pinot Noir from three different cool regions. However, less explored varieties such as Riesling and Carignan and cool-climate reds are interesting as well."

UK importer: Cristián Isbej is now based in London as Undurraga's national sales director -


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