Play it again, Sam (Casablanca Valley, Chile)

All puns aside, the Casablanca Valley is one of several newer regions in Chile getting some serious attention. In the 1980s it was discovered by a former Concha y Toro partner as a potential new white wine region. When Concha y Toro told him he was insane he left and established his own vineyards in the region, predominantly sauvignon blanc. After seeing the results of the early wines, Concha y Toro and many other large wineries began to plant their own vineyards in the region. There are only 11 wineries in the region, but there are almost 4,000 hectares planted. The maths speaks for itself.

No one could ever say that William Cole didn’t have cojones. Hailing from Wyoming and based in Colorado, Bill made the decision to start his own winery in Chile, as he had “cash burning a hole in his pocket”. Why he decided to invest it here, no-one is quite sure, but it may have had something to do with cheaper land and labour, and an industry still in its relative infancy. Not knowing anything about wine production or viticulture, he hired a consultant to make many of the early decisions on his behalf. This proved disastrous, as most of the varieties selected were totally unsuited to the cool-climate Casablanca Valley, which is very maritime in nature, and is susceptible to frosts. So Bill made the call to relocate himself down to Chile and run the business himself, which turned out to be a smart move. The wines have steadily improved under new management, and production has increased to meeting demand in numerous export markets. First class viticultural and winemaking techniques are employed, and the tasting room is a warm and inviting location for locals and tourists to sample and purchase. The vineyard manager Diego was kind enough to take me out in the ute to have a look at the different varieties and different soils. The vineyard is essentially flat, which naturally makes frost an issue. The other issue this created is that each individual variety planted on the estate tends to ripen at the same time, making it difficult to schedule picks and processing. Natalya (not a Spanish name) the newly appointment assistant winemaker walked me through the winery and then we had a tasting of the major varieties. The wines at William Cole were excellent, and Bill has assembled a good team to help him run the shop. Click here to read my notes.

One of the greatest experiences I have had so far was to meet Jaime Rosello from Neyen de Apalta and Veramonte wines. I sent through a request to make an appointment at Neyen in Colchagua, and as they are small the email went straight to him as the director. His response was to of course invite me to Neyen, but also to let me know that Veramonte Wines in the Casablanca Valley was part of the same group, along with several wineries in California, one of which I visited (Quintessa, see Napa Valley Day One). Through email correspondence with Jaime he not only arranged visits to his own wineries, but also helped me get in contact with other wineries to make appointments. This was an immense help, as most of the wineries I have sent emails to didn’t respond, like many of the wineries in North America. This kind of generosity is very rare, but makes a big difference to me on this trip travelling on my own and making most of the plans myself.

To fill you in, Veramonte was one of the first wineries in Casablanca, and is located at the gateway to the valley at the highest point. A fairly large winery, the portfolio operates in the most dynamic categories of US$10-$20 RRP. The varieties are kept simple and precise, exhibiting good freshness and cleanliness. Without exception every wine in the range over delivers at the price, which is more than I can say for other wineries in Chile. The winemaking team is young and energetic, with long careers ahead of them, and they do a great job of marketing and promoting their wines both in the tasting room and in market. Click here to read my notes from the tasting. A lovely lunch with Jaime and Valentina (from Marketing) followed the tasting, and it is always nice to chat with local industry people about experiences and recommendations. They were also nice enough to call ahead at my next visit to arrange a tasting. Thanks again to Jaime and Valentina for a lovely afternoon.

It is interesting to discover that the organic and biodynamic revolution has made its way to Chile, and not in the cynical “large winery jumping on the bandwagon and designating part of their 500 hectare property to organic, losing the actual point of organics” way. Emiliana was established from the beginning as an organic winery, funnily enough through Concha y Toro. The winery is committed not only to sustainable practices in the vineyard and winery, but also with their employees and community. Their program of social responsibility involves providing their employees with training and education, and a share in the profits of such items as hand-made hats and produce sold through the winery. They firmly believe in the importance of educating the community about sustainable practices for the environment and health, and this is a very holistic approach for a Chilean winery to take. The wines continue the trend of the day, for being exceptional value for money. Click here to read my notes from the tasting. The staff in the tasting room are possibly the most knowledgeable I have encountered, so a visit to the winery is recommended if you are heading to Valparaiso from Santiago.

Click here to see more photos from the Casablanca Valley.

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