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Chilean brand looks back to move forward

Chilean producer Santa Carolina has launched an “icon” wine with a difference, modelling it on the style of wine made by the brand in the 1950s.

Andres Caballero, chief winemaker at Santa Carolina, shows off new wine Luis Pereira alongside the brand’s 1959 vintage

Named after the company’s founder, Luis Pereira, and released to coincide with Santa Carolina’s 140th anniversary, the new wine represents a culmination of the brand’s research into its oldest vineyards, including genetic profiling of pre-Phylloxera era plant material.

The team also revisited wines made during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, whose quality Santiago Larraín, general manager of Carolina Wine Brands, described as “amazing”.

As a result, Santa Carolina has now launched 500 cases of Luis Pereira, a 12.8% abv Cabernet Sauvignon-led wine from the 2012 vintage with an RRP of around £100.

Introducing this maiden vintage, Andrés Caballero, chief winemaker for Santa Carolina, cited the brand’s 1959 vintage as stylistic inspiration for the similarly warm 2012 vintage.

As part of his effort to replicate this character, Caballero noted the picking date of 19 March, a full month earlier than the producer would usually harvest its Cabernet Sauvignon. However, he noted: “If you pick early without balanced fruit you will have very green fruit – think of Chile in the ‘90s.”

After harvest, the wine underwent a “long, cool fermentation” before spending a year in old barrels, followed by a further year in larger foudres. “We can really make wines that don’t have to be so evident,” summed up Caballero of one of the main lessons learned from this research project.

While the grapes for Luis Pereira came from vineyards in Maipo, Colchagua and Maule, in terms of the precise varietal make-up Caballero admitted, “We don’t know. It’s mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but we know this vineyard has pre-Phylloxera material of 30 different varieties.”

The company is currently working with UC Davis to confirm the identity of the various varieties and clones in order to create a nursery, which can then in turn be used to plant its other vineyards.

As for bringing Luis Pereira to market, Caballero confirmed that China was a particular target, but added: “Maybe Europe and the UK could be more open and it could be an easier style of wine to understand here.”

Overall, however, he conceded: “It would have been much easier to present a big, rich, 14.5% alcohol wine. This wine I will have to teach.” Looking ahead to the 2013 expression of Luis Pereira, Caballero observed: “It was a colder year and we were more courageous so it’s more extreme.”

Despite the challenge of presenting such a departure from Chile’s usual icon wine style, Larraín stressed the importance of this project for the country’s wider goal of extending its presence into higher price points.

“The challenge for Chile is to grow its high end wines,” he outlined, but acknowledged: “We’re missing a story that the consumer can relate to. Up to now we’ve been offering value for money but not so much of a story – Chile doesn’t mean a lot to anybody.”

Nevertheless, Larraín insisted: “Chile has a lot of tradition and history, but maybe we lost our north for a while.” Pointing to the vintages that inspired the Luis Pereira project, Larraín observed: “Most of these wines were produced for the domestic market, then we started to export and giving customers there what they wanted, but maybe we forgot our history.”

With this latest offering designed to highlight Chile’s viticultural history to the rest of the world, Larraín concluded: “Santa Carolina has played a major role in the story of Chile. We must keep it.”

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