What’s in a Lot?
We began bottling wine in 2001 and we have numbered each bottling since then with a Lot number: Lot #1, Lot #2, Lot #3 and so on. Seventeen years passed and one of our latest releases, from the Las Higueras Vineyard for instance is Lot #72, that is to say, that it is the 72nd bottling we have done since we began in 2001. And that would be pretty much all there is say about how the Lot numbers work, save for answering the question: why so many?
Why so many bottlings? And so few bottles!
Small vineyards belonging to viñadores make for small bottlings, but the story of how we began working with so many is more of a journey. A long time ago we were invited to see a prized property about some old-vine Cariñena. We were shown a farm in tip-top shape, everything in order and with a fresh coat of paint. After seeing dozens of acres of well-groomed fruit we were shown a small section of specific rows that were available if we were interested. The broker spoke at length about the other well-healed buyers who purchased fruit from the property— we just wondered about what control we might have over the growing. What would it be like to be like to be the smallest customer of a large grower?
And what would it be like to work with someone or a few smaller growers? Soon we began to look for smaller growers never imaging how small small would be. And this desire for greater autonomy over the growing— a seemingly small factor in the grand scheme of things would take us on a different path altogether.
We have grown a company around making wine from small parcels of old-vines that belong to separate small growers or viñadores whose families have been working these old vines by hand and horse for quite literally centuries. Conclusion: the reason that we have made so many short bottlings of 25oo to 75oo bottles is that we bottle the small parcels separately.
Today we have two in the Maipo and ten in the Maule or Secano Interior as it was once called. We name each wine by the vineyard’s name from whence it came: Las Higueras Vineyard is one, San Juan de Pirque Vineyard another, Truquilemu Vineyard, Sauzal Vineyard and Bagual Vineyard are a few more and so on.
Each wine’s varieties are printed further down on the label, but what is important for us is not the variety but the origin, that is to say, the parcel from where it comes.
Our fruit was, and still is, fermented using open-top fermenters. Caps are punched down by hand. Pressing is manual. Yeasts are strictly native– working in a renovated cerca 1840 cellar, we are one of the few in Chile whose native yeast wines really are just that. We do not suffer contamination by airborn commericial yeasts from other winery operations under the same roof. We are opposed to manipulation and have learned to guide the wines through their natural process. To our way of thinking, the wines personalities’ are well defined on the vine. The rub lies in keeping them true. We pick the fruit in small parcels that fit on our pickup’s trailer and fit in our small stainless tanks of 1900-2200 kgs.
Wines are barrel aged for two winters. Malolactic fermentation occurs slowly and naturally over the cold winter months and usually finishes about Halloween but can take as long as Christmas depending upon the winter. Garage wines are naturally produced. Enzymes, magic powders and spinning simply do not fit into our way of doing things.
Generally, the wines spend a full year in bottle before release, but to date our futures buyers tend to pull their bottles ASAP and we ourselves begin to release the wines when stocks of the previously year’s wines run out.
Sulphites, a product used in the preservation of wine for millennia, are added sparingly before bottling.
Tom Sawyer clause : toward full disclosure we must point out that over the past few years, friends, family and students’ of Alvaro’s from the University of Chile have begun helping with some of the grunt work. In this way the pace, rhythm and treatment of the wines remains the same, and we receive a lot of apples.
Our Wines today
Mountain grown Cab Sauv & Cab Franc and Carignan based blends dry-farmed in the Maule.
Today we continue to make a Mountain grown Cabernet blend from high in the Maipo Valley. It is a site at almost 1,000 metres above sea level. We also make a Cabernet Franc from a little further down. Production amounts to 7 lots of between a dozen and a dozen and a half barrels of each (5-6,ooo bottles of each wine).
Our main thrust today is our work with Carignan & Grenache in the Maule. These dry-farmed old-vines are a national treasure that have never been given much attention. This is an “old-worldly” wine that you will find more about in pages devoted to these wines.
It is precisely the area of Chile shaken hard by the earthquake of 2010. Today we have strong ties with many small ploughman farmers thanks in no small part to the Geoffrey Roberts award Derek won– to help with rebuilding efforts through better recognition of their old-vine Carignan. For more about our efforts see about Derek’s winning of the Geoffrey Roberts award on Www.Jancis Robinson.com or Www.Geoffreyroberts.com directly or listen about it on NPR.
What’s with the stencils and silk screening?
Our first few vintages were bottled in reused glass that we painted with stencil like old port and re-used amongst friends. No one seemed to appreciate the Madiera type artistry so we began silk screening a more polished presentation when strangers began buying wine (who sadly but realistically would not be returning the bottles).
Painted labels are still done, one by one, by hand on a machine we built. We continue bottling in previously imbibed bottles because it just feels right, giving two uses to the glass. We have a terrific source of great used glass (see our classic motel champagne bottle for the Carignan, and classic round shouldered port-style bottle for the big reds— for us: perfect, cleaner, and cheaper. Better to reduce and reuse than recycle if one stops to think.
Waxing our bottle necks instead of using capsules has become a tradition. It is the final physical touch required to make GWCo. The secret: we wax bottles with food-safe crayon wax we acquire from a small school supplies manufacturer who just happens to be a big supporter and Futures buyer.