Last week I had the opportunity to meet Claudio Naranjo, the General Manager for Los Vascos and current president of Viñas de Colchagua. He is an enigmatic personality with a love of both the land and wines of the Colchagua Valley in Chile. Claudio was in Chicago sharing the wines of Los Vascos for the wineries 30th anniversary, but more importantly sharing the story behind the wines.
Like the Winetraveler team, Claudio believes that wine is more than something poured into a glass. Wine is life, culture, history and emotion and it is something enjoyed even more when you understand the people behind the wine, the land from which it comes and as part of a memorable experience.
The Colchagua Valley lies in the Central Valley of Chile and is rising star for both wines and wine tourism. Bordered to the east by the Andes, the west by the Pacific and lying a few hours drive south of Santiago, Colchagua Valley boasts a Mediterranean climate, rich soils and numerous wineries built with tourism in mind.
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Meaning “Valley of Small Lakes,” Colchagua Valley’s agricultural roots date back to the Inca with the first vineyards believed to have been planted by the Jesuits during the Spanish Conquest in the mid-1500s.
The climate is warm and arid, cooled by oceanic breezes and enriched by light rains as well as snow melt from the Andes Mountains carried down by the Tinguiririca River. The grapes ripen slowly with little intervention and benefit from the well-drained granite soils.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Syrah and Merlot are the stars of the red wines produced as single varietals as well as Bordeaux-style blends, and toward the coast where the vineyards are cooled by the ocean breezes, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc can be found.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) purchased Los Vascos in 1988, becoming the first French viticulture investment in Chile. At the time, the property extended to 2,200 hectares and boasted ideal weather conditions. The vineyards of Los Vascos were carefully selected by DBR for their sun exposure, water sources, semi-arid soils and little risk of frost. The volcanic soils consist of sandy-clay and granitic sand lending depth and structure to the wines.
The vineyard is organized in two groupings: one with 15-year old plots and the other with plots ranging between 40 and 50 years old. The vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Carmenère (5%), Syrah (4%), Malbec (1%) and Chardonnay (5%) with the Sauvignon Blanc and some of the Los Vascos Chardonnay coming from vineyards in the cooler regions of the Pacific coast (Casablanca and Leyda) or the foothills of the Andes (Colchagua Andes).
Claudio, born and raised in Santiago graduated from the Universidad de Santiago where he obtained his Certified Public Accountant degree. After working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, he joined Los Vascos as manager in 1990. Claudio knew little of wine, but was fast educated with tours of Lafite, Margaux and the many world-renowned chateau of Bordeaux and hands-on experience at the winery. He applied his financial knowledge toward business operations, establishing pricing and distribution, building operation systems and financial programs, while also growing a team, which to this day he views as family.
“This team has been together for 20 years. We are a family,” Claudio says beaming with pride. “I am not a boss. Leaders lead and I want my family to be as much a part of this experience as possible. This wine is made with love.”
As Claudio says, wine is a matter of taste and enjoyment and the loyalty of wine consumers can be lost with a bad vintage. This is why the overriding philosophy at Los Vascos is an unrelenting focus on quality and consistency.
The Experience of Los Vascos
In talking with Claudio, his passion for the Colchagua Valley is evident and it’s not just for the wine. The Valley offers unique experiences and opportunities to explore the culture, history and stories, all of which lend additional depth to the wines. What will you find in the land of Los Vascos?
Pichilemu – the small fishing village and beach where the surfing is epic, seafood is plentiful and ocean breezes are paired perfectly with a Sauvignon Blanc.
Bees and wild strawberries – a visit to Los Vascos is not complete without learning about the 16,000 bees pollinating the property and producing wildflower laden honey; and tasting the wild strawberries or our wild strawberry ice cream.
The Guesthouse Orchard – steps from our guesthouse is the guesthouse orchard, a beautiful expression of the land of Los Vascos with rosemary, thyme, hot peppers, Mediterranean and Chilean spices.
Parronino Knives – located just north of Los Vascos is where Parronino knives, loved by Michelin Star chefs, are crafted by the Castro brothers.
Olive Trees – planted by Los Vascos, the olive trees brought over from Spain and Italy produce over 15,000 liters of olive oil, which is a must-try while in the area.
The Wines of Los Vascos
The White Wines
Sauvignon Blanc – The vineyards for the Sauvignon Blanc can be found in the Casablanca Valley of Chile. The grapes are macerated for several hours, pressed and fermented in stainless steel. The wine is refreshing and crisp and surprisingly retails for under $10.
Chardonnay – Also affordably priced for the quality, the Chardonnay is sourced from the Central Valley of Chile and is harvested early in the mornings when the temperatures are low to preserve the grape’s potential. Fermented in stainless steel this wine is best served between 50 and 54F.
Rosé – The 2018 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre. The grapes are pressed, fermented and aged at a low temperature in stainless steel vats. This is an excellent summer patio wine from the Colchagua Valley.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Grapes are harvested from the Los Vascos vineyards in Colchagua, fermented in stainless steel and macerated for between 10 to 15 days. Malolactic fermentation is also carried out in stainless steel. You can expect notes of plum, chocolate and tobacco.
Carmenère Grande Réserve – 100% Carmenère from the Colchagua Valley, these grapes come from both old and young vines and are fermented in stainless steel with regular pump overs. The wine then ages for 12 months in French oak barrels. If you’ve never had a Chilean Carmenère, this is one worth picking up.
Grande Réserve Cabernet Sauvignon – The 2015 is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Carmenère. Fermentation is in stainless steel with 12 months of aging in French oak. Again, this wine is extremely affordable given the quality.
Le Dix de Los Vascos – Meaning 10 in French, Le Dix is sourced from the oldest vineyard at Los Vascos, El Fraile, with some vines going back 80 years. The cuvee is comprised of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Carmenère and 5% Syrah. The grapes are macerated for 25 days and aged for 18 months in barrels from the DBR cooperage. This is a deep and elegant wine with balanced tannins, a beautiful example of a Bordeaux-style wine in Chile.
Winetraveler Tip – While visiting (or even staying at Los Vascos), make sure to also visit Vik, Lapostolle, Montes and Neyen to develop a true sense of this beautiful landscape and the wines it produces.