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Posts by Matt

Goodbye Italy, Hello France!

Meghan and I were both more than a little sad to say goodbye to Iuli winery; our new friends, Summer & Fabrizio; and Italy in general but we were also very excited to work a harvest in Bordeaux, France. Though other regions may claim comparable quality, no other wine region has the same worldwide name recognition as Bordeaux. The region is famously divided into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Our positions with the Rolland Collection, brought us to the merlot-heavy, Left Bank – specifically to Pomerol’s Le Bon Pasteur and Fronsac’s Fontenil wineries. And despite the studying that we did before we left for Europe, we seemed to have forgotten all of our French. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve re-learned a lot of the basics and we are making slow, but steady progress. Sometimes our Spanish and limited Italian come in handy, other times it all gets mixed up and makes us revert to sign language. Progess at the winery is proceeding more quickly than our language skills; over the last two weeks all the grapes came in from the fields and are now resting comfortably in stainless steel tanks, oak tanks, and barrels. The rest of our season will be spent managing the vinification at Fontenil. Conveniently, we’re also living in a charming guest house on the Fontenil property, just steps from our work.

We’ve befriended other young winemakers from around the world (Argentina, Spain, United States, India, and of course – France) who are working the season with the Rolland Collection. If/when the schedule lightens up, we hope to visit some other chateaux. Like the wines from Piedmont and Bordeaux, our experiences in each country will be different – but we couldn’t have asked for two better opportunities to learn!

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Our first real bottling

Bottling was relatively simple in our home winemaking days. Our friends saved their old bottles for us, we soaked them, scraped off the labels, cleaned, sanitized, filled, corked, and then slapped a computer-printed label them. It took a couple hours and we ended up with 10-12 cases of our very own moonshine wine.

When it comes to bottling on a commercial scale, even at a smaller production winery such as Iuli, it’s a whole ‘nuther ball game. The mobile bottling truck is scheduled, then boxes of tape, shrink-wrap, labels, foil, and corks are pre-ordered. Pallets and pallets of bottles stacked 7 high arrive, thousands of boxes are pre-made & marked according to expected production, and game faces are readied. After some test bottles, tweaking the machine, and roles are assigned, the madness begins with bottles flying through the truck as fast as (or faster than) we can keep up with them. At Iuli, this craziness lasted for three glorious days.

The machine itself is just plain fun to see in action with all its gears and belts and other thing-a-ma-jigs, but more than that, it was great to be a part of the process of taking the wines from their large tanks and put them into the bottles that will be opened at homes, restaurants, and gatherings around the world.

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Working at Iuli is our second “harvest” experience, but our first experience actually harvesting grapes –  i.e.. the clipping and picking of fruit.  The labor was intensive, the heat oppressive, and the work – incredibly rewarding. Meghan and I agreed that this would count as our workout for the day. We started around 10AM, after the dew had dried from the vines and worked in the vineyards until around 4PM. It doesn’t sound like much from that description, but out in the sun, bent over at weird angles, hauling heavy baskets up; down; & across steep slopes, the hours add up quick. After bringing the Pinot Noir grapes in from the vines, we put the clusters through the crusher/destemmer and into tanks in the comfort and cool of the Iuli Cellar.

I can understand why wineries would choose to harvest with machinery rather than by hand, but I for one am glad that Iuli still does it the old fashioned way. It’s certainly better for the grapes, soil, vines, and wine, but also – for some primitive reason, as long as my body allows, I’ll always take a certain amount of pleasure from a hard day’s work.

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The Art of…

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting our dear friend Artur Podniesinski, well – we sincerely hope you do someday. He’s a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable character who has been both a huge inspiration and a great help as we’ve transitioned into the wine industry. Starting out by working at his parents’ wine shop in Long Island, Art has since launched his own line of incredible wines called “The Intern.” And when we began this crazy adventure, he was one of only a handful of “wine insiders” that we knew. More than just sharing ideas and providing advice, Art actually put us in touch with Summer and Fabrizio of Iuli Winery where we’re currently working, so THANK YOU ART!

And what an experience it’s shaping up to be! With the relatively small production, we’re really able to participate in every stage of the winemaking process. In just two short weeks, we’ve helped with the actual harvest, crushing/de-stemming, and have even bottled some previous vintages. On top of getting all this production experience, we’ve also had the opportunity to taste a number of extraordinary wines from Summer and Fabrizio’s personal cellar. Cheers to you Art, we wouldn’t be here without you!

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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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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Paso Dos

We have transitioned into the second phase of the harvest. Up until now, we’ve spent a lot of time on the fermentation process, starting with the hand desteming of the grapes by the ladies (pictured), moving onto the cuvas (or large oak tanks) and assisting the grapes/juice/wine/grapes through fermentation. Now that the last of our grapes have arrived from the vineyard, we will be focusing more on pressing grapes and moving the wine into smaller barrels to begin the aging process.

It’s great to be experiencing this whole process first hand. Each week as we move through the harvest, we’re learning and practicing new skills. Though we still have a lot to learn, I think that we’re doing well. Everyone is in need of a vacation and there’s a rumor floating around that we might have an extra day off work on Monday or Tuesday in honor of Chile’s national “workers day.” I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but that sure would be nice.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, we should find out later tonight.

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