As we approach autumn in the northern hemisphere some vineyards have begun harvesting grapes while others await the perfect moment. There is nothing quite like being around a vineyard around the time of the vendemmia. This past April, it was the southern hemisphere’s turn to harvest grapes. I had the joy of visiting several wineries in Chile around that time. There aren’t many places more beautiful than vineyards just before the harvest and few vineyards more beautiful than the ones we got to visit. Even better, the vineyards produce wonderful wines. Casas del Bosque in Chile’s Casablanca Valley located between the capitol Santiago and the coastal city of Valparaiso, was one of those stops and it was special.
We arrived on a foggy overcast day, but given the location of the vineyards in a valley just beyond the coastal mountain range, that is not unusual and an important contributor to the character of the winery’s wines. The temperatures are cooler than other growing areas in Chile and perfect for Sauvignon Blanc and other white grapes. In fact, at these vineyards, the winery grows primarily white varietals with Sauvignon Blanc totaling almost 50% of the total vineyard yield. Red varietals are grown there as well with Pinot Noir accounting for approximately 22% of the production, but other reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere are grown in other, warmer parts of the country.
It was the start of the harvest and winemaking was in full swing. We had a tour of the modern facilities and got a sense of their wine-making philosophy. Wood, when used, is used judiciously to provide texture rather than to mask the uniqueness of the terroir. Winemaker Grant Phelps, himself a cook, stated that for him, “making wine is about making wine that works with food.”
After our tour of the winemaking facilities and the winery’s aging cellar, we were whisked by tractor past hectares of vineyards up into the hills.
Once through the entrance and the main building of the winery, we were transported to a building called Casa Mirador, a beautiful modern design structure overlooking the valley and vineyards with a wonderfully picturesque century-old hawthorn tree gracing the front yard. Casa Mirador embodies the strong environmental philosophy of the winery, which does all they do keeping the environment and sustainability in mind, principally by incorporating technology focused on photovoltaic power generation, passive ventilation systems and ecologic air conditioning and water reuse.
The area surrounding Casa Mirador was beautifully landscaped with a variety of plants accenting the vineyards immediately surrounding the building.
The rows of vines themselves were remarkably beautiful undulating with the earth as the rows rose and fell over the surrounding hills. The gray skies, typical of the area, would seem to indicate a wet and rainy climate, but ironically, it is quite dry with next to no rain and no top water either as the Casablanca Valley is the one wine making area of Chile that is without a river or lakes. All of the water used for irrigation comes from deep wells with the major cost of growing the grapes the cost of producing electricity for the pumps. As such, Casas del Bosque is committed to getting as much energy as it can from renewable sources.
As all good wine grapes are, these were delicious plucked directly from the vines.
Of course, as good as they were, we weren’t there to eat the grapes. Ushered into the building, we sat in a space of exquisite temporary design with large windows looking out over the vineyards and began to drink some wine. Their Sauvignon Blancs were delicious, loaded with tons of minerality that gave the wine a slightly salty finish. The wines were lush and tasted of the land and not of charred wood. Unlike most white wines, these had been left in contact with their skins for a full week under cold fermentation conditions, leaving the wine with a lush, full mouth feel, but no additional color. The Riserva, aged entirely in stainless steel was fruit driven and fresh. The Gran Riserva saw time in old oak, but only enough to effect its mouthfeel without overtaking the flavor of the wine. These were delicious wines that neither reflected the winemaker’s own New Zealand origins or other New World styles.
Phelps was correct when he described his wines as being made to go with food. The Sauvignon Blanc’s were great accompaniments to crab dip…
…and empanadas. These were just starters, but good enough to tempt me into eating too many.
Winery chef, Álvaro Larraguibel, who is in charge of the winery’s restaurant, Tanino, brought our group back into the kitchen for a quick cooking class on ravioli making. With dough already rolled and short ribs already cooked, he had us stuff and cut the ravioli that would be part of our lunch.
Few dining rooms have a more inspired setting and view than the one at Casa Mirador. The lunch that accompanied it was well done, but the true stars of the meal were the wines as we ran the full gamut of their selections.
Winemaker Grant Phelps dined with us regaling the group with winemaking stories and the background of the place and each wine. Each wine was a gem, but none more so than his Late Harvest Riesling, which had great acidity to add impeccable balance to the wine’s abundant sugar.
Casas del Bosque makes delicious, food friendly wines. It was a worthwhile stop on our Chile trip in so many ways. Their wines are available in the US at very reasonable prices, though they are not widely available in so far as I can tell. One notable retailer that appears to carry them is Astor Wines and Spirits in NYC.
For more photos from Casas del Bosque, please see my Flick’r Photoset.