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Making a Master: Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2021

As part of db’s ‘Making a Master’ series, we explore the Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2021, a Master medallist in The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2024.

Crushing the grapes by foot is a key element of Cono Sur’s gentle approach.

Since its founding in 1993, Cono Sur has achieved an impressive amount. It has been a clear proponent of Chilean white wine, especially Viognier, when many associate the country with punchy reds. It quickly grew to become one of Chile’s largest brands, as part of the Viña Concha y Toro group. It has prioritised work in sustainability, becoming the world’s first winery to be certified carbon neutral for delivery in 2007, as well as attaining B Corp certification in 2017.

A signature variety

Arguably its most substantial project, however, has been in advocating for Chilean Pinot Noir. The grape, which makes up only around 3% of Chile’s winemaking vineyards, has been a long term focus for Cono Sur. Indeed, its internal ‘Pinot Noir Project’, a plan to create Chile’s first premium Pinot Noir, turns 25 this year.

The connection is, in part, deeply personal. The site of the first Pinot Noir vine in Chile, planted in 1968, is now part of Cono Sur’s Santa Alisa estate. The quest to prove the grape’s suitability in Chile came from that inspiration, as well as faith that Chile’s diverse terroirs could offer the cooler climate sites in which it thrives.

The zenith of the project is the Ocio Pinot Noir, the 2021 vintage of which received a Master medallist at the Global Pinot Noir Masters 2024. The wine, produced since 2003, makes use of some of Chile’s best sites for Pinot Noir as well as three decades of expertise.

Though a young company, Cono Sur makes the most of older vineyards and the 19th Century manor house that serves as its headquarters.

The search for perfect terroir

The medal-winning wine comes from a single area of the Casablanca Valley, the San Juan de Huinca vineyard. Situated around 10 kilometres from the coast, its cool climate is ideal for maintaining the characteristic acidity of Pinot Noir. The winemakers summarise it as “a sharp juiciness” that is integral to the wine’s character.

Further complexity comes from the site’s soils. The grapes that make up the Ocio Pinot Noir are grown on soils with a mixture of red clay and granite. These complex solids provide all the minerals and nutrients that the grapes need, while the clay content also acts as a cooling influence, ensuring an elegant Pinot Noir with smooth tannins and a lively character.

Once ripened in the picturesque vineyards, the team manually harvests the grapes, carefully selecting only the best clusters. They are destemmed, and from that point onwards delicacy and care are the keywords.

A light touch in the winery

The winemaking takes significant influence from Burgundy. Since 2001, Burgundian winemaker Martín Prieur has consulted for the winery, and his 20-year partnership with head winemaker Matías Ríos, who joined in 2003, has brought the expertise of two nations together in crafting fine Pinot Noir. Cono Sur believes it was the first consultancy of its kind in Chile, a statement of intent for the country’s fine wine production.

In several aspects, the Burgundian approach remains. A cold maceration extracts flavour and colour while preserving the characteristic finesse. The grapes are then crushed by foot and the cap is punched down manually during fermentation. The processes together prioritise gentleness, allowing all the grape’s flavours to be extracted without harshness or bitterness.

The final process in crafting the wine is the ageing. Once more, there is a distinctly Burgundian feel. With high quality grapes leading to fine, concentrated aromas, the wine can benefit from oak ageing. The French oak, 70% of which is new, adds toasty, spicy aromas over the 14 months of ageing, as well as integrating the smooth tannins even further.

Oak barrels impart spicy flavours, but also smooth the tannins so that the wine is ready to drink within two to four years.

The winemaker’s perspective

To uncover what truly defines the standout wine, db spoke to Ríos for his perspective on crafting a Master medallist wine.

What does the Ocio Pinot Noir demonstrate about Chile’s winemaking, and its place in the market?

Ocio seeks to demonstrate the maximum expression of Chilean Pinot Noir. It is our ultimate expression of quality in this variety that defines us.

Ocio seeks to be a reference to our terroir. It expresses the cold coastal valleys of Chile; the influence of the Pacific Ocean with its cool Humboldt current; and the granitic soils and red clays of the coast, in combination with the great solar radiation.

Together, they give us a very special terroir with great personality. Vinified in small open tanks, with manual harvest, it allows us to delicately extract the best expression of the terroir from which its grapes come.

How does the Ocio Pinot Noir develop with age?

Ocio has very good acidity and a moderately low pH for a red wine. This, added to the great concentration of its grapes, makes it a wine with excellent ageing potential in bottle.

Being a wine with tannins that we mature on the vine – they are soft and silky from the beginning – we can drink it relatively young, from two to four years. But it improves in the bottle, reaching its greatest expression between six to eight years. From then, it continues to evolve in a great way, becoming delicate and elegant and making it a very interesting wine beyond 10 to 12 years.

What is the greatest challenge in crafting fine Pinot Noir in Chile?

As we know, this variety is very difficult to produce both in the vineyard and during winemaking. It is a very capricious variety, so vineyard management is key.

In Chile it is necessary to irrigate to be able to produce good quality grapes. Irrigation management is therefore key, without lack or excess, only using the right amount of water.

The management of the foliage is also very important. The relative exposure to the sun, even in cold valleys, can be of great intensity.

Then the moment of harvest is key for the expression and personality of the wine. Only in choosing the moment of the harvest can you have two totally different wines from the same place.

And finally, winemaking is extremely important in Pinot Noir, moreso than in any other red variety. Here we see the importance of vinifying it in small open tanks, with the grapes being crushed by feet inside the tank. This means we can adjust the extraction of its tannins according to the daily tasting of each tank. This allows us to obtain delicate wines but at the same time with great concentration and personality.

Small open tanks allow a delicate approach.

A worthy Master medallist

As part of The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2024, a panel of expert judges awarded the Ocio Pinot Noir a Master medal, the highest award. One of them, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, provides her note below.

Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2021


  • Producer: Cono Sur Vineyards and Winery
  • Region: San Antonio Valley
  • Country: Chile
  • Grape variety: 100% Pinot Noir
  • ABV: 14.0%
  • Approx. retail price: £36

Chilean Pinot Noir began in the 1960s, with vines planted in the Colchagua Valley, then considered the coolest and best region for this finicky grape variety. Today, Cono Sur has found that Casablanca and, increasingly, San Antonio provide better terroirs with red clay, sand and granitic soils and very cool meso-climates, which enable winemaking director Matías Ríos and his team to fashion beautiful Pinot Noirs. This flagship Ocio, from the very cool San Antonio Valley close to the deep, cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, is exquisite. Pale cherry-hued, the aromatics show red berries and blueberry, cedarwood and a mint note giving lift. Dry, the vibrant fruit is balanced by brisk acidity and linen-textured tannins with toasty, spicy oak adding complexity. Medium-bodied, this wine will pair well with game, especially roasted venison ‘backstrap’.

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