Many people have a lawn in their front garden. Chile-based British expat Guy Hooper decided to plant vines instead: 626 of them in a surprisingly compact area, all red varieties: Carménère, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah. When I visited, most of the grapes were going through the magical process of véraison, where they change colour from pale green to purple.
Guy Hooper came to meet me in the leafy main square of Talagante, a 40-minute bus ride outside Santiago. A brisk, firm handshake and talk of rugby and cricket on the short drive to his home; all very stereotypical for two British expats. Then we drove through the gates, past the densely-planted vines in his front garden and parked outside the stylish house designed by his Chilean wife and it became clear that Guy is absolutely at home here. You see this with some expats; they adjust perfectly to their adopted homes, adopting the customs and speaking the language but, as soon as they meet someone of their own nationality, they switch right back into their native manner and language.
This ability to be at home with two cultures and languages must have been a great plus during Guy’s highly successful career in international sales at Chilean wineries de Martino, Tamaya and Veramonte over the last 20 years. Right now though, he’s taking a break and enjoying time with his family and his own wine, Hoops.
We toured his small vineyard and winemaking area. Everything is kept simple and as natural as possible. Powdery mildew is a problem and Guy applies sulfur to keep it at bay, but, other than that, he keeps intervention to the minimum – not even irrigating the vines. Like some of the biodynamic viticulturists I’ve talked to, he feels that the vines are stronger and better able to withstand problems if they are expected to fend for themselves from day one. His other major problem is birds. In fact, it is the thrushes which determine the final blend of each vintage – in 2011, they devoured most of the Carménère and Syrah grapes, so the 2011 vintage contains only Petit Verdot and Malbec.
The name Guy’s family have given to their home and their winery is Caviahue – a place for get-togethers and parties and each year they live up to this promise with their harvest festival. They invite family, friends and colleagues for the day and everyone takes part in picking and destemming grapes in a party atmosphere with a barbecue and wine.
So all the grapes are picked together on the same day and are put together in a big plastic bin, where they undergo a 24-hour maceration at ambient temperatures before being foot-pressed by the family. They are fermented with their native yeasts in the same plastic bin for 15-25 days and Guy does a manual punch-down twice a day. To avoid the must getting too cold at night, Guy lights a brazier of wood every evening and then puts a tray of hot embers under the tank to keep it warm. This is truly a labour of love.
After the fermentation, he leaves the wine over its skins for 2-3 days, then transfers it first into another plastic container to decant naturally for 24-48 hours, then to a used French oak barrel in the cellar at the heart of the house. Usually there is enough wine to fill one barrel plus a little left over to top up the barrel as the level drops. One barrel means 300 bottles, more than the family needs and this is the reason that Guy has started to sell his wine.
Bottling and labelling are a family affair too, a more or less manual process involving a small bottling machine, a compressed aircork machine and a heated coil capsule machine to put on the pvc capsules. Guy’s wife designed the labels, which she prints and hand-sticks on each bottle.
“What I’m looking for”, Guy explained, “is a light, fresh, fruity, soft and easy-drinking wine. One that goes well with food.”
The wines we tried certainly met that description – see my tasting notes below.
This was a vineyard visit with a difference; I was welcomed into the winemaker’s family home and met his wife and daughters and the family’s dogs. However, for all the relaxed, friendly atmosphere, good humour and the improvised nature of the winemaking equipment, it is clear that a very professional approach has been taken to this small-scale operation and the results speak for themselves. It will be interesting to see what project Guy Hooper and his family tackle next.
If you would like to know more about Guy Hooper and Hoops wine, you can get in touch by email at email@example.com or check his twitter account @caviahuewines.
More interviews with people from the world of wine:
- Cristóbal Undurraga: biodynamic winemaker at Viña Koyle
- Hugo Salvestrini: Export Manager at Tabalí
- Daniel Raab: Chilean organic sparkling wine producer
- Alejandra Gutiérrez of Loma Larga
- Amanda Barnes: Around the world in 80 harvests
Hoops 2010 – 43% Malbec, 36% Carménère, 20% Petit Verdot, 1% Syrah
Medium intensity. The nose has integrated well and is nicely perfumed, with a touch of farmyard and forest floor. Pleasant and easy to drink, with earthy notes and smooth tannins.
Hoops 2011 – 47% Petit Verdot, 43% Malbec, 5% Syrah, 5% Carménère
Aromas of blueberries, cherries and spices on the nose and the fruit comes through again in the mouth. Nice, fresh acidity and subtle tannins.
Hoops 2012 – 44% Petit Verdot, 30% Carménère, 21% Malbec, 5% Syrah
Again a lovely fruity nose with notes of raspberry leaf. Very easy to drink with light tannins and a long, delicious finish.