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Winos crossing borders…

Yesterday was our final day of work at Lapostolle. We had an amazing experience and a fantastic initiation into the wine industry here that we won’t soon forget. After we said our farewells to all of our friends at work and had one last party with the roomies (thanks roomies!) we were off to Argentina early this morning via bus. The purpose of our trip was twofold: one, to visit Mendoza where Malbec reigns supreme and two, to avoid becoming illegal aliens. That’s right, we aren’t working in Chile any longer so our visas will expire today. We only really need to step foot over the border to be allowed back into the country but as long as we’re there, why not have some fun?

So we have a scenic 6 hour bus ride through the Andes to contemplate the rest of our stay in Chile and our next harvest. After an awesome discussion about living life to the fullest with our roommates Roberto, Alejandra and Evelyn last night, a trip to Peru for a hike up Machu Picchu is now definitely on our radar. I mean, we left our other jobs to do this, we had better make the most of it, right?

And our prospects for the harvest in Europe include an amazing winery in Bordeaux and possibly an early harvest in either northern Italy or Slovenia, which happens to be the motherland of my grandfather’s family. As I learned in my previous job, nothing is final until it’s on paper so we don’t consider anything 100% confirmed yet. However, as David Bowie put it (replace the ‘I’s with ‘we’s), “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Enough said.

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The Vines!

On Friday, the Enology staff at Lapostolle had the opportunity to take a guided tour of some of our vineyards. Led by resident viticulturalist Jorge Castillo, we started off listening to a presentation on Lapostolle’s biodynamic practices. I won’t get too much into the details of biodynamics, but it is an organically focused agricultural system that views the entire farm as a connected, living system. On a side note – on the day of our tour – Lapostolle received word that they are the largest biodynamic winery in the world!

Taking the tour out of the classroom and into the vineyards, Jorge piled us into his truck and we headed off for San Jose a couple of kilometers down the paved road and then another several kilometers into the foothills on some really fun dirt roads. San Jose is the site from which we get the grapes for the Cuvee Alexandre, San Jose de Apalta Syrah. The vines were planted in 2006 and some of the “roads” leading to the top of the vineyards would be adventurous on foot, Jorge navigated these trails with ease in his truck. Roberto, Rodrigo and I enjoyed the views and the fresh air from the back of the pickup. Most of the leaves were already off the vines, but those that remained were a beautiful red.

After San Jose, we made our way through the Clos Apalta vineyards encountering many of the vineyards non-human residents along the way. We saw ducks, peacocks, sheep, goats, alpacas, and the occasional cow. We also stopped to check out the property’s vegetable garden. Then we wrapped up the tour with a stop at Casa Barrone, complete with its 100 year old vine trellis. We heard that the winery’s owners stayed in this house while the winery was under construction. Now the house is used for special events and the occasional guest. The views are incredible and I can imagine that it makes for a great outdoor party. The house sits at the base of a slope that produces some of Clos Apalta’s most reliable Carmenere.

While I may not have understood every technical spanish word regarding the winery’s biodynamic practices, from seeing the vineyards up close and personal, I do feel like I have a better understanding of and appreciation for Lapostolle’s sustainability efforts. Jorge and the viticultural team put a lot of work into making sure that the agricultural practices do not damage the earth. It is a more difficult way to approach agriculture, but it is also very environmentally-conscious. The most important ingredient in making great wine is to produce great grapes; with Jorge at the helm, I think Lapostolle’s vineyards are in good hands for years to come.

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Harvest Part Deux

It’s hard to believe the harvest is nearly over. Slowly but surely all the tanks (or cubas) are being drained of their juice, the grape skins are being pressed, and the wine is being moved into barrels for aging. The winery will soon be transformed from the controlled chaos that accompanies the fermentation process to a sleepy retirement community where wine goes to rest until bottling.

With one harvest under our belts we are now shifting our focus onto the northern hemisphere’s 2012 harvest. Following the harvest from North to South around the world isn’t a new idea. In fact, all six of our assistant winemaker roommates at the winery have worked harvests in at least one other country if not multiple. For Matt and I, coming into the game a bit later in our professional careers and without a formal wine education, gaining worldly knowledge of the wine industry becomes that much more important. As our good friend and winemaker/brand representative at Lapostolle, Diego Urra wisely said, “The world will be your classroom.”

We are focusing on wineries in France and Italy first and then considering Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, and a few other interesting wine areas close by. We are looking forward to the harvest wherever it might be! The possibilities are endless and very exciting to consider. It certainly feels as though the world is our oyster!

I’ve attached a video of Matt emptying a tank of grape skins for the press, a process called descubar. There is the lovely sound of a barrel being fitting in the background and a fan running over the tank so feel free to turn the sound off. You won’t miss much. Enjoy!

Descubar (finally, after a brief lesson in video conversion, here it is)

Biodynamics

Yesterday I went with my friend and co-worker Patricia to visit another winery named Emiliana just up the road from where we are living. Like Clos Apalta where we work, this vineyard is biodynamic, a widely accepted practice in Chile. Biodynamic viticulture takes organic to another level. From what I have come to understand, it is a principle that not only uses environmentally friendly practices such as composting, avoiding unnatural chemicals and pesticides, etc., but also follows celestial calendars for decisions like when to harvest. This is of course a very basic explanation of a complicated subject. Some wineries in the United States and Europe have been using these practices for years but overall in the wine industry I’ve been told, what might be seen as a “hippie movement” by some winemakers is being met with less resistance in Chile. I don’t know enough about the subject to form an opinion on it yet, but I don’t see any harm in treating the environment well and having less chemicals in my wine.

Winemaker Noelia of Emiliana was nice enough to show us around the property and explain some of their practices. The vineyards are gorgeous right now as it is Autumn and the countryside is a patchwork of yellows, oranges and reds. Noelia explained to us that they don’t spray chemicals to kill bugs because they find that everything has a balance. When you wipe out a population of one “pest” you find that inevitably you will have a sudden increase in the population of another critter that the first pest may have been keeping in check. So they have things like chickens that comb the fields for bugs. The chickens won’t wipe out the whole population but they help decrease numbers and simultaneously fertilize the vineyard. At Emiliana they also plant other vegetation the insects are attracted to near the vines. Noelia explained that if you give the insects somewhere else to go then they may not need to rely on the vines for sustenance. Next we were introduced to the Alpaca. These “woolly eaters” eat weeds and fertilize the vines. It all seems very tranquil and harmonious.

We also were given the opportunity to try a few of the wines. Like Clos Apalta, I thought the wines were very good. I don’t know how much of the taste is influenced by biodynamics but based on the result, I don’t think I would change anything. Our tour definitely inspired me to learn more about the viticultural aspect of the wine. After all, the terroir is where it all begins!

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Pichilemu

Surf’s up!

Our home base of Lapostolle in the Colchagua Valley is only a 2 hour comfy bus ride from Pichilemu and the world famous surf of Punta de Lobos. So far, I’ve made two trips to Pichilemu and I hope that Meghan will be able to join me when I return for a 3rd time. I have only been surfing a handfull of times in my life, mostly during college when I lived in LA, so standing up on the board for any period of time is a major accomplishment. Punta de Lobos has a lot of people in the same boat as me, but also a lot of serious pros. In different sections of the beach, you can find waves for people of all ability levels. The water is very cold because the current comes from near Antarctica, but with a rented wetsuit and boots, it’ve very comfortable – even refreshing.

In addition to the waves, Punta de Lobos is just flat out beautiful. On my first trip, I did more surfing and less sight seeing, though we did venture into town after we were all surfed out. On the second trip, I surfed for about 3 hours and spent the rest of the time watching a pro surf competition. I’ll interject here with a little additional info – Punta de Lobos is most famous for it’s annual Big Wave, Tow-in surfing world championships, but the event that I watched was a tricks competition. The waves looked huge to me, but I guess they get much bigger. After watching the pros pulling off ridiculous tricks for a while, we made our way to the actual “Punta” of Punta de Lobos. If I had to guess, I would bet that this is where the biggest waves are found. One of our coworkers from Lapostolle, Ismael, is an experienced surfer who grew up in Pichilemu and knows these waves well. He was the only one from our group to venture out into these waters.

Other than the surfing and sightseeing, I enjoyed my first Chilean-style Churro- filled with dulce leche. The last bus back to Santa Cruz left at 7PM, and at 6:48, we were lucky to find another surfer leaving the beach who was willing to give us a ride back to the bus terminal in town.

On both trips, I left for Pichilemu after working an all night shift, so on both occasions, I took advantage of the 2 hour bus rides to catch some shuteye. Returning from my first return trip from Pichilemu, I slept right through a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

I’m really grateful to have been able to experience Pichilemu first hand, the photos don’t do it justice, and am already looking forward to my next daytrip there!

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Workers Day!

A bunch of folks at the winery, including me and Meghan, had the day off on Tuesday. It’s a holiday in Chile. The upside is that you get a day off work, the downside is that 99% of the population has the same day off work so all stores, shops, restaurants, etc. are closed. Fortunately the buses were still running and with the help of our friend Patricia, we decided to make an adventure out of it.

The first plan was to visit the thermal pools at 7 Tazas Park near Talca. Unfortunately, after Patricia did some research, we found out that this would be an impossible single day feat. So instead we set our sights on the hot springs outside of Rancagua. An early morning huge bus, short taxi transfer, and smaller bus ride later we learned that these hot springs were (like everything else) closed for the day. The good news is that we ended up in a beautiful park outside the city in the foothills of the Andes where a lot of people were gathering for the holiday. After asking around, we decided to take a hike to top of the park’s highest hill. After a short, steep 15 minutes we had to stop and ask for directions. If there’s ever a case for stopping and asking for directions – this is it. The brief conversation lead to us renting horses to haul our sleep depraved butts up to the top of the “mountain.” The horses weren’t really necessary, but they made for a really good time. I don’t know if the photos do it justice, but I hope my horse got paid extra, he was dripping sweat by the end of our time together.

We spent the rest of the day in the park relaxing, meeting people and watching a rodeo. In the end it was a day off work well spent and a memory that I’ll never forget.

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