Talking volcanic wine with Ben Gordon
August 7, 2016
The setting sun was casting an orange glow as I met with Ben Gordon outside a café in the Las Condes business district of Santiago. An affable British expat, he has been Managing Director of Bodega Volcanes de Chile since January and I asked him how it was going.
“Really well so far,” he replied, “though of course it’s early days. I have a long-term approach, which means it will take a while for the results to show. But I’m sure it’s the way to go. Many Chilean wineries are more short-term in attitude, tying their distributors into exclusivity agreements and then setting them ambitious sales targets, trying to drive sales. I believe that long-term success lies in building honest, transparent relationships with distributors, where together we set targets that are appropriate to the market and the company, growing the market gradually.”
Volcanes has taken an interesting approach to its winemaking, seeking out plots of land with volcanic soils and making wines that express the minerality of these soils. One of the most seismic countries in the world, Chile has some 2,900 volcanoes, of which 80 are officially classed as active, so volcanic soil is not in short supply. But this is the first Chilean winery to really pay attention to the possibilities offered by volcanic soils.
The story started in 2009, when Pilar Díaz, a young winemaker at Viña Undurraga, discovered that some of the vineyards owned by the winery had the ability to produce wines with unique expressions of minerality. She invited geologist Gonzalo Heníquez to visit the vineyards, and he confirmed the volcanic soils of the sites and the special conditions that these offered for producing quality wines. That was when this new boutique winery was set up, a sister company to Undurraga within the Grupo Vinos del Pacífico.
Producing some 15-20,000 9-litre cases of Reserva and premium wine each year, the winery is exporting to a range of countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, focussing its efforts on the on-trade (hotels, bars and restaurants), specialist retail outlets and wine clubs, such as Stone, Vine and Sun in the UK.
Ben was enthusiastic about the range of wines, which he described as “unique, with fresh acidity, and food-friendly”, the kind of wines he likes himself. The range includes 4 reserva and 5 premium wines. Parinacota is a blend of Syrah and Carignan, while the Tectonia line consists of 4 wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a blend of Grenache, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre.
Tectonia Pinot Noir 2014, Biobio Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990, UK £13.50)
An elegant, aromatic Pinot Noir with red fruit, chocolate and violets on the nose, together with a touch of minerality. With reasonable levels of acidity and tannins, this is a versatile, food-friendly wine that you could pair with traditional Pinot Noir companions like salmon or chicken but also with red meat.
Tectonia Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990)
A pleasant, easy-drinking Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of fruit and sweet spices on the nose. With moderate levels of smooth tannins, body and acidity, this Cabernet Sauvignon is for those who prefer a smooth wine without too much oak or tannins.
Tectonia Grenache-Petite Sirah-Mourvèdre 2012, Maule Valley. (Retail price: Chile CLP$9,990, UK £12.95)
Wine consists of 45% Grenache from Rapel Valley, 38% Petite Sirah from Maipo Valley and 17% Mourvèdre from Maule Valley.
An enjoyable, well-balanced and concentrated blend of Mediterranean grape varieties. The nose has lots of ripe red fruit aromas, such as raspberries and cherries, intermingled with notes of sweet spices, dark chocolate, smoke and violets from the oak-ageing, plus just that hint of minerality. This wine is nice on its own and, because of its tooth-coating tannins, would pair well with robustly-flavoured dishes, such as steak or a vegetable casserole. Potential for ageing.
Parinacota 2013, Maule Valley (Retail price: Chile CLP$12,990, UK £20.50)
Bodega Volcanes de Chile’s icon is a big wine, an intense, concentrated blend of Syrah and Carignan. The nose opens with notes of sour cherries, blueberries and black plums, complemented by oak-ageing notes of vanilla, cedar and dark chocolate, plus hints of liquorice and violets. The minerality is more noticeable in the mouth, intermingling with the fruit and spice notes. With high acidity, high tannins, full body and a long finish, this is a good choice for accompanying red meat. Potential for ageing.
Bodega Volcanes de Chile wines are available from Jumbo in Chile or Stone, Vine and Sun in the UK.
I asked Ben to name some wines he has enjoyed recently. These were his choices:
- Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay, Itata Valley.
- Lagar de Bezaña GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend), Alto Cachapoal
- Miguel Torres Estelado, sparkling wine made from País
- Gusbourne sparkling wine, UK.
For more information about Bodega Volcanes de Chile: