Christian CALLEC

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Posted by Christian Callec on donderdag, februari 3rd, 2011

This is another nearly unbelievable story that began officially in 2007. After 3 years of searching for the best terroirs and vineyards in Chile, the O.Fournier Group started its wine activity in two different regions. In the historical Maule, the group found exactly what they were looking for: 100-120 years old, non-irrigated vines, located in a kind of amphitheatre along the Loncomilla river. In the San Antonio Valley, they opted for cool climate vineyards in Lo Abarca (near Casa Marín!), in the pre-Andean coastal hills.

tarjetas seleccionada JMO

Lo Abarca – San Antonio

O.Fournier owns 35 ha of vineyards, very close to the Ocean, at about 150-200 m above sea level. This typical cool climate area is blessed a great microclimate with mild temperatures (average 10-25°C) which is good for a long and slow maturation of the grapes. This gives a great aromatic power and a good concentration, but also a much better freshness. Irrigation is only necessary in the summer; there is enough water for the rest of the year (300-400 mm). The very old soil is very complex. You can find layers of sand, clay and gravel, but the most peculiar is the presence of weatherworn granite and iron oxide. The last two ones make it possible to grow red grapes like pinot noir and tempranillo with very promising results. The combination of the first three types of soil give great results for aromatic grape varietals like sauvignon blanc, riesling and (gewürz)traminer. The wines produced in Lo Abarca have a great elegance, freshness and minerality. In a few years, the O.Fournier vineyards will be fully operational; for the first vintages, they bought grapes from the best vineyards of Leyda (very close to Lo Abarca) to produce their awarded wines.

Loncomilla – Maule

Maule is the historical centre of the Chilean wine industry. It is the place where you still can find non-irrigated vineyards with an average age from 80 to 150 years old!

O-Fournier old vines in La Higuera. Loncomilla, Maule

O-Fournier old vines in La Higuera. Loncomilla, Maule

The roots of the vines have been digging very deep for water and minerals. Unfortunately, the type of vines you will find there is not meant for high quality. The old local ‘país’ grape varietal (a.k.a. mission or criolla) was brought by the Spanish conquistadores and gave a kind of plain wine, easy and fruity. But, using the roots as under-stocks and grafting it with high quality European varietals give absolutely fabulous results! Think about cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, carmenère, and … my favourite: carignan!


An old ‘país’ vine grafted to cabernet sauvignon

The O.Fournier Group have a long term lease contract with some grape producers in Maule. The largest leased vineyard, La Higuera, is located near to the river Loncomilla, at about 300-400 m above sea level. The other leased vineyards are located in Loncomilla, Linares and Tabontinaja (see Gillmore). The rainfall in Maule is quite moderate, 400-600 mm/year. The summer is mostly dry, and warm (up to 32°C) but the nights are cool (down to 9°C!). The soils are a very complex mix of sand and clay layers with lots of stones and sporadic limestone. No wonder the O.Fournier Group fell in love with this type of soil, they do feel home, this is very similar to Ribera del Duero. All those elements together will soon give fantastic results. The first vintages are already really promising, but the future will bring even much better wines, with great colour, fruity and elegant aromas, a good structure and concentration, a bit less alcohol than usual, a higher natural acidity and minerality. The O.Fournier Group aims to produce high quality (super) premiums wines, able to undergo a long barrel aging. For the vinification, O.Fournier uses only top quality material from the best European producers. The process is very classic, based on strict and permanent quality controls to obtain the highest possible wine quality. The aging is done in 100% top quality French oak barrels (225 l), in a room with total control of temperature and humidity.


The ‘La Higuera‘ vineyards along the Loncomilla river

The future

At the moment, O.Fournier is leasing an old winery to make their wines. In the next years, they will build two wineries, a smaller one in Lo Abarca (with a visitor’s centre and restaurant) and a bigger one in La Higuera (Maule) only for the red wines. Both wineries will be an architectural state-of-art but above all meant to be functional, all with gravity flow for the best quality result. This is just the beginning of a great story!

The tasting

After a nice and impressive visit of La Higuera, we went to the ‘socios’ house in Linares. A more than 150 years old country house next to 120 years old cabernet franc vineyards! It gave the tasting a special extra dimension…


Meinard-Jan Bloem, O.Fournier oenologist

URBAN MAULE sauvignon blanc 2009: fresh, fruity, ripe, a personal association with wild fennel, lot of juice, fresh and round finish. Good wine.

CENTAURI sauvignon blanc 2008, Leyda: fresh, ripe aromas, mild and round on the palate, lot of juice, good concentration, lovely pleasant bitter in the finish. Good wine!

ALPHA CENTAURI sauvignon blanc 2008, Leyda: the oak is still dominating but is less than what it was in an earlier tasting. The ripe fruit is now coming back, a mix of white, yellow and tropical fruits. Good structure, powerful but velvety, creamy reminders of the oak (was it fermented too in oak barrels?)… Very clean and mineral finish. Very good wine!

ALPHA CENTAURI sauvignon blanc 2009, Leyda: same as above but more roundness and softness, but still a good freshness. It seems like 2009 was a warmer year in Leyda. The wine was not showing all it could at the moment of the tasting, but seems to be quite promising. Very good wine!

URBAN RED BLEND 2008, Maule: 80% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon and 10% carignan. Beautiful wine, very friendly. Perfect balance, great freshness, ripe and soft tannins, spicy and fruity aromas, lot of juice, long, round and sensual finish. Good wine!

URBAN RED BLEND 2009, Maule:  very friendly wine, spicy nose, with a pleasant herbaceous note and some menthol (?); round, full but still fresh. Good wine.

URBAN 2009 cabernet sauvignon, Maule: very friendly, direct pleasant, elegant, spicy, a hint of menthol, round and velvety. Not really complex but lovely and enjoyable. Good wine.

CENTAURI RED BLEND 2008, Maule: a fantastic blend of 45% carignan, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 25% merlot! Very fresh nose, fruity and still marked by the oak aging (12 months). Great freshness, lovely structure, soft and ripe tannins, long, juicy and mineral finish. Very good wine!

CENTAURI RED BLEND 2009, Maule: a different blend, 45% of 120 years old cabernet franc (!!!), 25% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 10% carignan. Completely different nose, with personal associations like purple flowers and spices. The oak is there too, but seems less dominant in this blend… May be more used oak? Fantastic structure, powerful but elegant and racy, velvety, juicy and round. Very good wine!

ALPHA CENTAURI 2008, Maule: a classic ‘bordeaux’ type blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Spicy, fruity, fresh, a wine with a very nice bite, still dominated by the elegant oak. Much too young for direct pleasure, needs aeration… But much better would be to give it much time to develop all its power. Very good wine!

ALPHA CENTAURI 2009, Cuba 4, Maule: no, this is not a special blend for Fidel Castro, it was just a sample from ‘cuva/cuba’ (= cask/tank) number 4…  90% of cabernet franc, 10% of carignan. Wow, very aromatic, fully fruity and spicy, with some tobacco, roasted mocha and toasted oak on the background. On the palate, great freshness, beautiful concentration, powerful but ripe tannins, long and fabulous finish. 18 months ageing on oak. Very promising wine, for itself, but also as a forerunner of what type of wines will be produced by O.Fournier in this decade! Outstanding wine!

I was delighted by this visit and tasting. It is such a pity that so little consumers all over the world know about the other side of the Chilean wine business… There is so much more than stereotypical brand wines only corresponding to a kind of ‘taste mastering’ that wine dummies continue to see as being the real thing… There is so much more than a mob of horny cats peeing on a field of green asparaguses or green pepper, eucalyptus and cheap chocolate fragrances in a red wine…  Each of my trips to Chile made me discover more and more of this fantastic country with a huge quality potential.


Syrah belongs to the future of Maule…

Many thanks to Meinard-Jan for his hospitality during the visit and the tasting.


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