Alejandra shows the vines

A petite Chilean woman, there is just a hint of French elegance in the way that Alejandra Gutiérrez expresses herself as she shows me around the Loma Larga winery in the renowned Casablanca Valley.  A throwback to ancestral genes perhaps or maybe when she studied French and English at university, some subtle aspect of Frenchness lodged itself in her manner.

As we stroll over the living roof of the cellar, a gently sloping dome planted with vines and roses, she warms to her theme, showing me the VSP-trained Pinot Noir vines and the drip-irrigation system.

I’ve known Alejandra for several years as we both work in wine translations. I ask her how her initial interest developed into a passion and how this brought her to work here at Loma Larga.

Wine production area.

“I’ve always felt especially attracted to French culture, literature and traditions. I think perhaps that is where the first seed was sown. It began when I decided to specialise in wine translations, to give me another string to my bow. I began to translate for some Chilean wineries and decided to do a sommelier course. Of course, having started, I continued through the full three years of coursework and took the exams and I hope to qualify as a professional sommelier this year.  And the more I study, the more I realise that this world of wine is enormous and expanding. No matter how much you study, there is always more to be discovered. But the most important thing is to look, smell, taste, touch and experiment. And that is why I decided to work in a winery. I’ve been here for four years now, working as a sommelier and tourism manager. Here I am able to go into the vineyards, work shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues and learn. I have adjusted to the rhythm of the vineyard, the dormancy of winter, the beauty of spring, the crazy pace of harvest time. I feel that with each year that passes, the vines are becoming more and more at one with the terroir and I am too.”

As we enter the main winery building with its state-of-the-art stainless steel vats, Alejandra explains to me the winery’s philosophy of drawing out the fruit expression in their mainly single varietal cool climate wines; wines which are gaining increasing recognition in international markets. They harvested some of the Cabernet Franc grapes just a few hours ago and they are now macerating in an open vat. Nearby a man in navy overalls is hosing down the yard.  As she talks me through the process, I ask Alejandra how she learned so much.

“I love reading. In fact I suffer because I don’t have more time to read. And where I used to read novels, now I read books about wine. My latest purchase is one of the Bibles of the wine world, the World Atlas of Wine by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Jonhson. I keep it on my bedside table.”

We enter the cool, cloistered environment of the cellar and walk among the barrels. Loma Larga uses exclusively French barrels but experiments with different brands, toasts and sizes. She explains to me that one of the winery’s two lines, Lomas del Valle, consists of unoaked wines, designed to reveal the full, unadulterated fruit of each variety, while the Loma Larga line is oak-aged to produce a more complex wine.

We blink as we head out of the cool, dark womb into the bright sunlight and head to a shaded veranda to start our tasting. It is quiet, but for the gentle rustling of the nearby Eucalyptus trees in the breeze. Somewhere a bird starts singing. This is not one of those industrial-style wineries bustling with a different group of tourists every hour. There is no sound of mechanisation, no distant roar of cars to spoil the illusion that you are far away from it all. The pace of life here is gentle and friendly. As Alejandra serves the generous sample of four different wines into Bordeaux-style glasses, I ask her about her hopes for the future.

“I dream of travelling and of course I would like to go to every wine-producing area. This year I was lucky enough to visit Napa, Sonoma and some other places on the west coast of the US. I also took part in some wine events, which means you can travel without going anywhere, as each wine is a place in itself. Talking to people who make wine is also like going on a journey. I’d love to go every year to Vinexpo and ProWein for business, but I’d also love to go to hedonistic festivals, such as the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, in which the culture of wine is part is a living, dynamic thing.”

Tasting Loma Larga wines.

Finally, I ask her to tell me about three wines she has tasted recently that she really liked.

“I really wanted to taste a Cabernet Franc from another cool climate area and see how it compared to ours here at Loma Larga, so I tried Mount Veeder Winery’s 2010 vintage from the Napa Valley in California.”“My second choice is F. Stephen Millier Angels Reserve Zinfandel 2012. Of course, as I was visiting California, I really wanted to get to know their flagship variety. This was a beautiful example, velvety, young and fruity and part of the Naked Wines portfolio.”“While I was in San Francisco, I went to a champagne event, where I was able to try a Millésime, a vintage champagne from 2008: 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay.  I was impressed by the body and length of the wine. Here in Chile, it is still difficult to taste really top quality sparkling wines, so this was a real treat for me.”

For more information about Loma Larga, visit their website.

The Loma Larga wines we tasted.

Lomas del Valle Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Clear, pale lemon with greenish hues. Clean nose with peach, lime and a touch of orange blossom. Dry, with characteristic citrus notes but a pleasing wine which would work well as an aperitif.

Lomas del Valle Pinot Noir 2013

Pale ruby with purple hues, this classic cool climate Pinot Noir unveils strawberry jam and raspberry bubblegum but is surprisingly interesting in the mouth, with high acidity and plenty of red fruit.

Loma Larga Malbec 2010

Deep ruby with good legs, this Malbec is complex, with blackcurrants, black cherries and plums intermingling with sweet spices, cedar and a floral touch.  This is a red wine that packs a punch, filling your mouth with smooth tannins, black fruit a touch of ashtray.

Loma Larga Cabernet Franc 2008

A ruby gem with forest floor, cassis and liquorice. Nicely complex and a great finish, this is a wine that can only get better with time.

Other articles of interest:

Casablanca winery visits: Loma Larga

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *