Chile’s wine regions, Loma Larga, Casablanca Valley

Date: December 11, 2010

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First visit of the day was to one of the wine estates that’s making waves in the Casablanca Valley. Loma Larga (which translates as ‘long hill’) is a striking operation. Owned by the Diaz family, it’s a 700 hectare estate in the Casablanca Valley, with a sizeable vineyard area of 147 hectares. Of these, 37 hectares are new plantings that aren’t yet producing. We met with Patricio Diaz (the owner, who still works as a big shot lawyer in Santiago), his son Felipe (CEO) and winemaker Emeric Genevière-Montignac.

The red grapes, which unusually for Casablanca make up half the vineyard area, are Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot and a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. Loma Larga was the first estate in the valley to plant Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec. The whites are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. Quite a few of the grapes are sold – around three-quarters, which is apparently very profitable business. In terms of actual production, this is the only winery in Casablanca making more red wine than white.

The estate was purchased in 1994 but five years’ research preceded the first plantings in 1999. Soil analysis was undertaken across the property, and along with temperature (which varies quite a bit from block to block), this was used to decide what was planted where. The first wines made were in 2004 (12 000 bottles) which increased to 100 000 bottles in 2006. The aim is to increase production to 300 000 bottles. 95% of sales are export (Justerini & Brooks are the UK agents).

The Diaz family are green-minded, and want to preserve the fauna and flora on their estate: they’ve achieved ‘Lotus’ certification for good environmental practice.

After a tour round the vineyard, we came to the winery, which is an incredible modern construction (see top and above). Indeed, it’s the first winery I have seen where there’s a vineyard on the roof. This is best seen from the aerial pictures. Basically, the winery is built into the hillside, and towards the rear of the roof, there are vines which seamlessly merge into the hill. Inside, everything is very clean and modern.

Emeric explains that he’s trying to do a natural vinification. The grapes are hand-harvested into 10 kg boxes, and there’s a selection of berries after the destemmer. Most fermentations are done in 5000 litre tanks, which means it’s possible to keep almost all the vineyard blocks separate. He uses lower sulfur dioxide levels than many, working at 2-3 g/hectolitre whereas 5-6 g/hl is more common. He’s tried a tank without any sulfur dioxide and reports that it is working pretty well. ‘There is no brett here’, he adds. ‘We only process our own grapes’. They can work with lower levels of sulfites because the grapes have good hygeine and the winery is easy to clean. Barrels are racked directly by gravity with nitrogen. ‘We are very respectful of the must’, Emeric reports. ‘We employ high technology, but we use the old ways – like a small winery’.

Before coming to Chile Emeric worked in France for 8 years, in the Sourth of France (Rhône) and Margaux. ‘I came to do a harvest in Chile and didn’t go back’, he says.

Loma Larga Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Intense nose is crisp and grassy with powerful herby fruit aromas. Grassy palate has high acidity and crisp herby flavour. 88/100

Chardonnay 2007 (tank sample)
Barrel fermented with 30% new oak. No malolactic. Tight minerally nose has some toasty richness and spicy apple and pear fruit. The palate has some breadth to it with complex bready notes and some minerally acid. 90-92

Merlot 2007 (cask sample)
Dark, pure, vibrant raspberry and blackberry fruit nose. Beautifully perfumed. Lovely focused palate showing ripe, fresh fruit with great intensity. Pure fruit and good structure. 89-92

Malbec 2007 (tank sample – hasn’t been in oak)
Wonderfully pure focused nose with summer pudding fruitiness. Sweet, intense, focused dark fruits palate with a lovely spicy, meaty edge. Brilliant, vivid wine. 90-93

Cabernet Franc 2007 (cask sample)
Lovely rich, ripe, dark blackcurrant fruit nose with a minerally, gravelly edge and nice oak. Tannic on the palate with oak evident. Ripe, expressive and quite serious. 88-91

Syrah 2007 (cask sample)
This portion was fermented in new oak barrels. Lush, dark and fresh with bold sweet fruit that has a fresh peppery edge. Really intense and quite tannic. Polished, modern and focused with lush dark fruit. This will be blended with the Cabernet Franc and is apparently very different to the regular Syrah. 90-92

Cabernet Franc 2006
Sweet and ripe with lush, pure blackcurrant fruit and a hint of greenness. Soft-textured palate has smooth but appreciable structure. Smooth, ripe and distinctive. 90/100

Syrah 2006
Focused dark fruits nose showing intense blackberry and blackcurrant character, as well as a bit of spiciness. The palate shows intense sweet dark fruits with great purity. A soft, approachable wine. 90/100

Then, after the tasting, a bit of a treat. Felipe Diaz has a helicopter (his father, Patricio, jokes that this is the reason he still needs to work in Santiago as a lawyer, to pay the bills), and he takes three of us for a flight over the estate. Then after a quick refuel, he gives us a ride to our next appointment, Matetic in the neighbouring San Antonio valley. There’s a short film of the Loma Larga estate from the air below.


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