The Wall Street Journal had a great article in this past Friday’s paper on Pinot Noir cultivation in Chile. The article is essentially all about Errazuriz, and describes at length Francisco Baettig’s background and efforts to establish Errazuriz as a premium producer in Chile.
Here is the link, and the full piece is below:
CULTIVATING PINOT NOIR | WILL LYONS ON WINE | WALL STREET JOURNAL | OCTOBER 14, 2011
Such is the mercurial and capricious nature of Pinot Noir that to decry its thin-skinned, temperamental character has become almost as much of a cliché as serving red wine with meat and white wine with fish. Even if you haven’t seen 2004 wine movie “Sideways,” you have probably heard its gags about Pinot Noir. They take the form of its lead character, Miles, explaining to his new friend Maya, why he favors the grape variety above others such as Cabernet Sauvignon. In short, he explains, this is because it needs a certain amount of care and attention, it can’t be grown everywhere and, yes, it requires an artisan to bring out its full expression.
In many ways, Pinot Noir is the benchmark, the grape variety that all winemakers wish to master and all aficionados wish to fill their cellar with. The search almost always leads to Burgundy, where on the slopes of the Côte d’Or the grape finds some of its most complex and nuanced expressions.
It is a journey that Francisco Baettig, winemaker at Chile’s Errázuriz estate, is happy to make. Mr. Baettig joined Errázuriz in 2003 after training at the University of Chile and obtaining a master’s degree from the faculty of oenology at the University of Bordeaux. His apprenticeship has been that of the modern winemaker, crossing several different time zones and continents. There have been stints at numerous French vineyards, including in the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux, as well as the Loire village of Sancerre. Finally, after four years as assistant winemaker at Chile’s Casa Lapostolle, he is now in the Valle de Aconcagua around 100 kilometers north of Santiago, tending the vines for Errázuriz, where he is attempting to make a name for himself in the premium-wine category.
It’s been more than a decade since Chile burst onto the wine scene, establishing itself as a producer of reliable, easy-to-drink, fantastic-value-for-money wines. Red grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère, as well as popular white varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, provided the country with a platform on which to build.
Change is ever present in Chile’s vineyards. Plantings in new cool-climate valleys, improved plant material such as different clones imported from France and the U.S., and a greater understanding of which varieties thrive and where, have all helped Chile’s winemakers to move up a few gears in the quality department. So in Mr. Baettig’s case, there is a desire to enter the premium sector and prove he can compete with the very best. Central to this is the successful cultivation of Pinot Noir.
“We had no idea how to make Pinot Noir in Chile,” says Mr. Baettig. “We just didn’t understand the variety,” he adds, explaining that he was waiting for phenolic ripeness in the vineyard, meaning ripeness of the tannins, pips and skins. But waiting for the phenolic ripeness in the grape variety risks producing a style that can appear too ripe. “Personally, I do not want that ripe style,” he says, pouring a glass of his wild ferment Pinot Noir. “I want more elegance, with more emphasis on the purity of fruit.”
Errázuriz’s Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2010 certainly has a refreshing, clean, silky acidity in the mouth. The nose has a little touch of smoky bacon, giving it a untamed character that I’m guessing many will love.
Pinot Noir may be difficult to crack but other grape varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, have improved immeasurably in Chile. Certainly, both his whites were impressive. The Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was vibrant, with all the intensity of flavor and tropical fruits one expects from the grape variety, while the Aconcagua Chardonnay 2009 had an attractive creaminess and a dry, stone salinity.
But it was the 2009 Single Vineyard Carmenère that really shone, with a deep, luscious character, bags of fruit and the sort of complexity one wants from a wine at this price. Talk to people in the wine world and they like to speculate what will be the next grape variety fad after Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Malbec. After tasting a number of remarkable Chilean Carmenères, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Single Vineyard Carmenère
Single Vineyard Carmenère
Errázuriz, Santiago, Chile
Price: £16 or €18
Carmenère is a hearty red-wine grape that was originally cultivated in Bordeaux’s Médoc in the 18th century. These days, its best expressions are found in Chile, where up until the mid-1990s, it was thought to be Merlot. A late-ripening variety, it can deliver bold, luscious wines that stand up well to autumnal dishes like winter stews and red meats. The second half of the growing season in 2009 was above average temperature in Chile, which suited the grape variety well. This sits in the glass with a deep, ruby character, with an immediate nose of deep licorice, spice and brambles. With time, the slight soy-sauce character blows off, leaving notes of blackberries. A superb wine for those cold nights ahead.