When I made the decision to take my 16 month wine odyssey I considered just travelling in Europe as the origin and bastian of wine in the world. However I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit North and South America to see what they were doing, as well as taking advantage of a round-the-world ticket. Little to any wine from these continents is imported into Australia because there isn’t much market for them. This is probably because the style and varieties are very similar to wines we make here and in New Zealand and therefore there isn’t much point importing them. As such I was very unfamiliar with regions and producers and had to do a lot of my own research. Information online was often hard to find and of those that I attempted to get in contact with, less than 50% responded to me at all.
Chile was particularly bad for this. Whilst every winery I found had generally great websites to visit and get information from, they seem to never read any emails sent to their general address! Or even worse they don’t bother replying at all. Amazingly when I sent an email to the general address for Neyen de Apalta – a modern icon of Chile in Colchagua – the email went directly to the Managing Director Jaime Rosello. In responding to me, Jaime was not only happy for me to visit Neyen, but he also informed me that he managed the Veramonte winery in Casablanca and I was welcome to visit him there beforehand. His generosity didn’t stop there as he proceeded to enquire where else I was going and contacting some of the many people he knows in the industry and helping make appointments on my behalf. One of the most genuine, humble and generous people I met on my trip, I sent him some questions recently so that I could know him better and here were his responses.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Chile, born and grew up there. My father is from Mallorca, Spain and my mother is Chilean.
How did you enter the world of wine?
My father-in-law, who passed away 3 month ago, was in the telecommunication business. He bought the Apalta property 40 year ago as a weekend escape from Santiago. I myself love horse-riding and also spent weekends on the property. When the Apalta region started becoming well-known for the quality of its grapes, I realised how much land we had in the hills and saw an opportunity to create our own super premium wine brand.
We decided on the name Neyen de Apalta which means ‘Spirit of Apalta’ in the native language.The property already had 70 hectares of old vines planted and I convinced my father-in-law to develop the land further. Between 1999 and 2000 another 45 hectares were planted, 10 more in 2004 and a final 10 in 2008. I began spending weekends working in the vineyards and working towards where Neyen is today.
What were you doing before Neyen?
I was working in fruit export, so my expertise was trade and international sales. Since the beginning I have been related to agriculture, and therefore wine was a very logical and easy transition for me.
What has inspired you in your career?
The international success and recognition received for Neyen has been my driving force. It is very rewarding and encouraging to see that my personal project I have developed from the beginning has become known everywhere, receiving high scores in the United States and United Kingdom.
Did you travel to any other wine areas in the world?
When I was researching for Neyen I travelled to some other wine-producing countries, just to learn what the consumer was expecting from Chilean wine and discovering the niche where I can be competitive. I have visited Bordeaux many times including most of the appellations there. I think I have been most impressed by the passion and the simplicity of the wine producers in France. Of course Pomerol is impressive because of the high quality and acclaim and yet the small size of the wineries. I’m always impressed to see how deeply involved the owners and winemakers are in Europe.I have also visited Mendoza, Uruguay Spain, Italy, the United States and South Africa, where I found many people who showed the same care and attention and knew their soils very well.
This was very important in my decision to produce only one exceptional wine from the estate and to be so involved myself. I also began working with a very well-known winemaker, and it turned out to be a very wise decision. After I created Neyen I have since had the opportunity visit many countries and sell the wine all around the world, talking and tasting with a lot of Masters of Wine and journalists.
Where do you think the best wines of Chile come from?
I cannot say the where the best wines in Chile come from, because there are so many different regions and it will depend what you like. But of course Apalta in Colchagua is one of the best valleys for high end red wines, with the elegance and ripeness in the tannins. For white wines, Casablanca is a very proven region, where great sauvignon blanc and pinot noir come from.
I believe the most important thing is the terroir itself. Sometimes you will see the expression of the terroir in the wine, and sometimes you won’t. Of course winemakers play a very important role in this. The success of Chilean wine has come from the work of marketers and winemakers together, as they have both been working on producing high quality wines, and visiting the markets to understand their customers.
Why do you think Chile has had such great success globally in such a short amount of time?
I’m convinced that it is because we have a great and diverse terroir; our climate and sun exposition is optimum. Not very long ago we still used very old techniques until the early 90’s when we started utilising stainless steel tanks, french barrels, and modern techniques for making wines. That increased the quality very quickly, and as the wine industry started to improve, the marketers followed and did a better job communicating and selling. It also helped at the time that the world began to enjoy very clean simple and fruit-driven wines which Chile became famous for.
What does the future have in store for Chilean wine?
Chile must focus more on producing high quality wines, and move away the tradition and dependence on low-cost wines. It has of course already been happening but it will take some more time to be fully realised.
What do you think of the growing market for wine tourism in the world in relation to Chile?
Tourism in Chile is growing exponentially. At the moment there are two kinds of visitor; the wine geeks, who will come on a wine tour because they know Chile is becoming very important, and also tourists who come to visit Chile and wine is part of the offer. For local wineries, is a good income because of direct wine sales and familiarity with the brand in their home markets. The growth rate is probably higher here because we started from such a low base and now we are getting the importance we never had before.