Hugo has been a loyal customer of mine for several years now and, when I set up my new blog, he was among the first people I told about it. Why? Because his passion for telling the world about Chilean wine is patent, as is his openness to new ideas and initiatives.
When Hugo was at Viña Ventisquero, he came up with the ambitious plan of getting Ventisquero wines onto the wine lists of the five restaurants judged the world’s best according to the 2012 ranking in the British “Restaurant Magazine”. His strategy involved contacting the chefs of each restaurant and offering them a trip to Chile. His colleagues thought he was crazy, but Hugo persisted and he achieved his goal.
“You have to believe in yourself,” he said. “Dare to be different.” After graduating with a degree in agronomy with a major in oenology, Hugo landed his first job with Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. “I got that job because I was bold enough to go up and introduce myself at the winery’s stand at an event,” he said.
His career to date shows plenty of bold moves, including taking a couple of years out to do a Wine MBA in Bordeaux. “It was all in English,” he laughs, “so it was hard at first, but I managed.” After the course, he came back to Chile and went into the sales side of the business, first with Viña Undurraga and then Viña Ventisquero.
In 2015, Hugo was appointed Export Manager at Tabalí, responsible for Latin America and Europe. He is clearly passionate about his new job. This is a small, high-end winery based in one of Chile’s northernmost wine-producing regions: Limarí, an area better known for producing grapes for Pisco. Tabalí has three areas of vineyards.
Talinay, which is just 12 km from the coast and is within the Fray Jorge National Park, enjoys a much cooler climate than the rest of the valley because of the coastal breezes and morning fogs. Its soil has a high level of limestone, which is uncommon in Chile.
These conditions favour the production of concentrated wines with high natural acidity and great elegance. These wines have gained international attention, for instance the March 2015 edition of Decanter included Talinay Chardonnay 2013 in its list of the world’s best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy.
The Tabalí vineyard lies near the Valle del Encanto, a protected area because of the petroglyphs and other traces of the Molle indigenous culture which are found here. This is mid-Limarí, between the coast and the mountains and the soils are clay and chalk. There is very little rainfall, so irrigation is essential and thankfully this winter enough rain has fallen to fill up the reservoirs. This is where Tabalí focusses its red wine production – Syrah, Carménère and its iconic blend Payen, as well as its Reserva and Reserva Especial lines of whites.
The third vineyard, Río Hurtado, is located in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 1850 metres and this is where Tabalí produces a Malbec with the name Roca Madre. Following her 2015 trip to Chile, Jancis Robinson described Roca Madre 2013:
“Exceptionally dark purplish crimson. Very sumptuous nose indeed. Lovely polish and spice without any gratuitous oak or winemaking. Pure (and that is the word) spicy fruit. Is it Malbec influence spreading just over the Andes from some of Mendoza’s finest vineyards?! This seems a tad drier than most Mendoza Malbec. Very sophisticated indeed.” *
Passionate as he is about his work and about sharing his knowledge – he teaches on the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) courses in Santiago – Hugo is the first to admit that there is more to life than this. It’s important to have fun, to enjoy life with friends and to try new things. He enjoys travelling and trying wines from other countries. I asked him to name three wines he had enjoyed recently. His choices also say a lot about him:
Antisynthesis from Sophenia in Argentina. This is a blend of grapes from a plot of vines in which the Malbec and Cabernet accidentally became intermingled, so the grapes are picked and fermented together. Hugo likes this wine because it is the opposite of the well-known wine produced by the same winery called “Synthesis”.
Tara Chardonnay, one of Viña Ventisquero’s natural and very limited production wines from the Atacama Desert.
Pure carmenère by Château le Geai, an organic winery in Bordeaux which uses horses in the production process and breaks the Bordeaux mould with its single variety wines.
What else would you expect from someone who is drawn to things that are bold and different?
*Tasting note reproduced with permission from www.jancisrobinson.com.