Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Are you a T.H.? Well, Chilean winemaker Rafael Urrejola is. He is the 'World's Best Terroir Hunter (T.H.)" by Philip S. Kampe

                   Winemaker and "World's Best Terroir Hunter", Rafael Urrejola

 When you enter Le Cirque restaurant on 58th street in Manhattan, you automatically realize that you have entered a world known to few people in the world. Maybe the restaurant is a homage to Sirio Maccioni, its founder, or maybe it is a place where his sons have visions of their own.

Whatever the answer is, it really doesn’t matter.
The point of Le Cirque is clear—have a meal with us, show off your wines if you are in the business and we will do the rest. And last week, that happened.

I was fortunate enough to share a meal with Undurraga’s  celebrity winemaker,  Rafael Urrejola, who is responsible for the T.H. portfolio.

T.H. stands for” Terroir Hunter”. Rafael and his team search for small plots of land.The plots can be  no larger than 13 acres. He searches Chile’s diverse topography, for micro-terroirs with micro-climates, where he can manage the chosen area, in such a way that he can obtain the highest quality wines that the soils can offer. "Wines with strong character and terroir driven wines are the ultimate goal" says winemaker Rafael Urrejola..

Rafael was recently named one of the ‘Top Thirty’ young winemakers in the world.

As I mentioned earlier, our focus was wine, specifically the wines from T. H. (Terroir Hunter), Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Carignan.

Gifted winemaker, Rafael brought six wines for our meal, three different versions of  Sauvignon Blanc , two  of Syrah and one Carignan. . The goal was simple, using the same grape in three different locations, does it yield three completely different results.

Our goal was to find out.

Rafael explained that his hands-on approach and attention to detail drives him to look for the best micro-lots located in specifically selected vineyards. Mr. Urrejola focuses his winemaking attention in locating various plots to find the perfect grape that helps create his special wines.

His goal is to create fresh, intense flavors and aromas through the correct selection of varieties, their development through the season coupled with respect for the environment and climate. Harvesting the grapes at their peak is essential and a priority in Rafael’s mission.

Rafael explained that when you taste the six wines, you will see the spirit of the range of wines he can produce. The idea is to show how diverse the wines of Chile are.

Rafael said, “The different climates and different soils communicate to the world that the new winemakers from Chile can produce world-class wines. In the past we only made everyday wines. Undurraga has helped change that myth, by using winemakers, like myself, to be responsible for certain ranges. We invested in new vats, doubled our property and focused our winemaking in special locations that we knew would excel”.

With vines in hand from France and Germany, Don Francisco Undurraga founded the vineyard in 1885. After years of making everyday wine, the vineyard was sold in 2006 to the Picciotto Family, who have focused on improving the wines

The wines I sampled are true testament that the wines from Chile, specifically Undurraga, can compete in international judging. Apparently, the Picciotto Family and winemaker Rafael Urrejola know what they are doing.

The three Sauvignon Blancs (under $20) come from three distinctly different areas. The Leyda 2012 grapes grow within nine miles of the Pacific Ocean. Cooled by the South Pacific breezes and a layer of fog that is normally visible until midday, the grapes ripen slowly, while developing an intense, fresh flavor and aroma. The Casablanca 2012 grapes grow in the northern Casablanca Valley, east of the coastal mountain range. The area is known for warm days and cool nights, thus creating wines that are intense in flavor. The third Sauvignon Blanc, Lo Abarca 2012, comes from a small village in the San Antonio appellation, just two miles from the coast. The vineyard is surrounded by steep granite hills, which winemaker Rafael Urrejola contends is why this wine is unique. The fog, the ocean influence and the granite contribute equally to the development of the grapes.

The real test is to sample the three Sauvignon Blancs and analyze the results. I found that the same grape grown in three different areas producing three entirely different wines.

The two Syrahs (under $20) were interesting, as well. One came from Leyda (Leyda 2011), as we discussed earlier and the second from Maipo, the Maipo 2011. The Maipo Valley is well known for its perfect climate for red wines. Add alluvial soil with gravel to the scenario of high temperatures in January and February followed by cooler temperatures in March and April and you have perfect conditions for the Syrah to mature correctly.

The lone Carignan  (under $25), Maule 2011, is from the Maule D.O., located two hundred miles south of Santiago. It is the largest of Chile’s wine growing regions with over 75,000 planted acres of vines. Warm to hot days with cool nights create the character of wines from this region.

Even though Chile did not win the World Cup, these wines did.  Isn’t it time to take the Terroir Hunter challenge?

Author: Philip S. Kampe
Twitter: @gotophil


Sammy W. said...

Enlightening article. It is a breath of fresh air.

Jason N. said...

T. H. is a new wine for me. from your observations, it seems like an obvious buy, which I will do for my beverage at today's World Cup match.

Meryl P. said...

I Love T. H.and love what it stands for.

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