Women to Watch in Chilean Wine

by Liz Caskey on September 30, 2011

   When I drink wine, it’s not just about the juice. I tend to gravitate to projects that are personalized, often, where I know the people behind them. Sharing a product where we know and appreciate its origin, and support its owners, is important in this day and age, especially as things become more globalized and standardized. Behind the wine, is the energy, passion, and purpose they bring to their craft. You can taste it. Beyond just looking for new wines, I encourage you to start thinking of wines in terms of projects. Just like dogs and their masters, wines reflect the owner/winemaker’s vision and style. This piece is not an exhaustive list of all women in the industry, nor is it intended to be a biography, similar Wine Enthusiast’s article. This is my personal list of five ladies I admire and why their wine projects inspire me to drink better, be better, and follow my heart in my own pursuits. Cheers to that—palatable passion is addictive.

Casa Marin: María Luz Marín

They called her loca, crazy, now she is having the last laugh. Owner and winemaker of Casa Marin, María Luz Marín, has undoubtedly become one of the most influential and innovative personalities in the Chilean wine industry. While she worked for one of Chile’s largest wineries, San Pedro, for many years, she had a dream she nurtured of planting vines in Lo Abarca, an area 4 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean where her family often vacationed. In 2000, with her savings and a lot of faith, she planted in Lo Abarca, an area she knew had truly special terroir to birth the kind of wines she envisioned—vibrant whites full of zippy acidity and depth. Earthy, deep Pinots that tango in your mouth. The naysayers said she would loose all her money. She followed her keen intuition. She started a trend of cold coastal wines. She didn’t have big shoulders. She had a dream, put a lot of hard effort into it and today is reaping the rewards. In my humble opinion, she’s making the best Sauvignon Blanc, Los Cipreses, and Riesling (Miramar) in Chile. A trailblazer? Absolutely. A true visionary.

Altair Wines: Ana María Cumsille

Nestled at the feet of the Andean foothills in the high Cachapoal Valley is Altair Wines, a grand cru type of project. Overseeing the winemaking is Ana María Cumsille, who studied at the University of Bordeaux, where she received her Diplome National d’Oenologie. She’s been at the helm since Altair took off in 2001 as a J/V between Viña San Pedro and Chateau Dassault (today San Pedro owns 100%), subsequent debut wines from the 2002 vintage. Ana María is all about elegance and finesse in her wines, backed by formidable power. Fresh fruit, vibrant acidity, and silky tannins rule. She’s a true non-interventionist in the vineyard and winery, and humbly works with the vines to best express their natural tannins, acidity, and aromas, a gift of the estate’s terroir. Having had the privilege of tasting all the vintages since this projects birth, I can firmly you assure you the wines only get better every year. More defined and precise in their expression; clearer in their identity. Altair only makes two wines, Sideral, which is a more easy-to-drink yet complex, fresh wine, and Altair, their icon wine, an earthy, long, restrained wine that blossoms if you patiently savor, or decant, it. These wines are pure poetry for me. Every time I open a bottle I give thanks for Ana María’s talent that she shares with the world through these wines.

Kingston Family Vineyards: Courtney Kingston

What does it take to transform a family dairy & beef ranch into one of Chile’s top boutique wineries today? Just ask entrepreneur, Courtney Kingston, of Kingston Family Vineyards. A Stanford MBA graduate, her brother Tim and her came up with the idea for their wine business, turning their family’s property into their own dream—and into reality. As Courtney acknowledges, it was not easy, convenient, and takes a lot of patience, persistence, and hard work. Kingston Family Vineyards makes handcrafted Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah from their hillside vineyards in a chilly western nook of the Casablanca Valley, and as you all know, is one of my favorite wineries in Chile. They had the vision to hire Byron Kosuge, a top Napa consultant in Carneros to help mold their sultry, elegant wines. Today, they bottle in Chile and export to their office in the Bay Area where they distribute out to their Old Corral Wine Club & mailing list in the US, mailed directly to your home. You can also find Kingston in top restaurants across the US like Michael Mina and the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco; Masa, Jean Georges and Restaurant Daniel in New York; Spago in Los Angeles and the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole. 

Gillmore: Daniela Gillmore

Started as a joint project in 1990 with her father, Francisco Gillmore (the “creator” as she put it) and her husband, winemaker Andrés Sanchez (“the artisan”), Daniela Gillmore is the powerhouse behind this petit project, producing only 2,000 cases per year is based in the western Maule Valley in the subappellation of Loncamilla.  Since 2001, Daniela now oversees the winery with her husband. They have focused on expressing the grapes born from the secano costero, dry-farmed grapes, with red wines like their Carignan and Cabernet Franc. This is a winery where you can taste the enthusiasm in the wines.  These wines push are edgy with brilliant acidity, grippy tannins, complexity, balance and airs of refinement. They are incredibly unique, tasty, and soulful wines—and outside Santiago, not easy to find. They are worth seeking out if in the US, see here, or ship yourself a case if you’re in town.

Viña Leyda: Viviana Navarette

If you’ve tried the wines of Viña Leyda, there’s one word to sum up their Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Pinot Noir. Graceful. Leyda was born as a boutique winery in the San Antonio Valley, subappellation of Leyda, only 12 kilometers from the sea. However, it recently became part of the San Pedro group, yet it still retains whispers of its former identity, overseen now by the young winemaker, Viviana Navarette. She’s worked alongside Concha y Toro’s winemaking maestro Ignacio Recabarren with their fabulous Terrunyo line. In coming to Leyda, she certainly has imparted her delicate touch for making these coastal-influenced wines.  Need some suggestions? Try Leyda Garuma, a zesty Sauvignon Blanc that’s explosive and citrusy in your mouth. If I blindfold you, you won’t guess the Sauvignon Gris, you’ll think it’s from Marlborough. Pinot Noir is where Viviana is a true bailerina, with fresh, juicy, fruity, elegant single vineyard Pinots: Las Brisas, Cahuil, and the iconic Lot 21 wine. Simple, straight forward yet elegant these wines are worth seeking out. 

{ 1 comment }

Lani October 2, 2011 at 11:51 am

Hi Liz, great to read an insight into Chile’s wine industry. From the outside, it sometimes seems like a big conglomerate of rich families!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: