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.
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)
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.
Today world famous wine consultant Michel Rolland and Lapostolle winery owner Madame Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle (of the Grand Marnier empire) will taste the 2012 Clos Apalta that we’ve been pouring our blood, sweat and tears into during this harvest. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Rolland, he is the equivalent of a modern day Bacchus, a sort of wine God if you will. Whether or not you like his influence, the power he holds in the wine industry is undeniable.
He consults at over 100 wineries, in over 16 countries around the world. He is a winery owner, consultant, oenologist and wine maker and a very successful one at that. Many wineries, like the one we are working at, trust their wine to his palate in deciding how to blend or proceed with their wine making process to ensure the highest quality and best tasting wine possible. At our winery, Clos Apalta, he works with the very talented Technical and Winemaking Director Jacques Begarie and Senior Winemaker Paola Muñoz.
We recently switched to our round of the night shifts so unfortunately I don’t think we will have the chance to meet either Madame or Michel, but I am excited about the fact that they will both be drinking the samples of Clos Apalta that we prepared for them in the wee hours of the morning (pictured) and have been spending our last month and a half working on. That maybe the closest we come to meeting them. Hopefully they agree that this is the best vintage yet!
These pictures were taken from and around the beautiful Clos Apalta winery where we worked.