Monday, January 3, 2011

Lapostolle: Clos Apalta.

Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta was for me the most anxiously awaited stop in Colchagua. This winery has been a grand success, drawing eyes from all over the world to focus on the up-and-coming region. Another interesting fact is that all the farming is 100% biodynamic. And for those who question biodynamic philosophy (like me), one look at the health and vibrance of these vineyards may change your attitude.

Apalta is a region in Colchagua about 15 minutes east of Santa Cruz. Here the soil is very sandy with a bit of clay and lime down to about 1-2 meters, below which sits bedrock. The climate is considered Mediterranean with warm days and cool nights and approximately 700 mm of precipitation in an average year. This area is a haven for winegrowing, with few problematic issues, lots of sun, and good daily temperature differentials.

The Marnier Lapostolle family (owners of Grand Marnier and Chateau de Sancerre) chose this site after investigating many Chilean wine regions and vineyards. Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet fell in love with the Apalta vineyard and its old ungrafted vines, realizing that the site had extraordinary potential to produce elegant and serious wines. “Merlot” and Cabernet Sauvignon that had been brought over as original cuttings from Bordeaux long before were still growing on the property, basically undiscovered. The Merlot was of course later determined to be Carmenere. Alexandra and Cyril contacted Don José Rabat Gorchs of the Chilean Rabat family, owners of the site at the time, and enacted a joint venture. Their first vintage was in 1994.

In 1994 the estate produced the Casa and Cuvée Alexandre lines. The wines were seen to have excellent structure and aging potential with a good amount of fruit. The success of the wines led to a more focused effort in 1997: Clos Apalta. The production of this iconic wine led to the remarkable winery’s creation on the property, solely for the vinification of Clos Apalta.

From the winery, the vines of Lapostolle reach down the hillside and spread onto the valley floor. Clos Apalta uses only the oldest vines and those on the slopes to incorporate only the most concentrated fruit. The remaining grapes go into the Casa and Cuvée Alexandre wines. Lapostolle also owns vines in Casablanca (40 hectares of Chardonnay) and Requinoa (117 hectares of Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot); the grapes grown in Colchagua are predominantly Carmenere and Cabernet. These are typically high density plantings (6,066 plants per hectare spaced 1 meter apart) yielding 3 tons per hectare of fruit. As mentioned before, all farming here is done based on the principles of biodynamics and has been for the past 4 years; our host Diego commented that all the wild animals are returning to the vineyards signaling the success of the new farming methods.

All vinification techniques for Clos Apalta are done by hand and by gravity. Even the destemming is done manually by a team of many women working long hours. The berries are not crushed; rather, they are transferred by hand from a small vessel to oak fermenters and left to macerate for a week while being cooled with nitrogen. The temperature is allowed to slowly rise to the point where wild yeasts begin fermentation. Once the fermentation starts, the temperature is rapidly increased to 18 degrees Celcius to encourage a thorough fermentation with no off-flavors or aromas. Punchdowns are performed 2-3 times per day throughout the fermentation. Afterward the wine is put in new French oak barrels (Taransaud, Radoux, and Saury are preferred) to age for up to 2 years. Just a note: Michel Rolland is a consulting winemaker for Clos Apalta.

The winery itself is a work of art. The cellar, barrel rooms, and offices spiral through 4 floors around an open central column. The winery is equipped with the latest technology allowing all movement of must and wine via gravity. There is a curious addition to the oak fermenters in the winery: a strange gray egg-shaped object that requires closer inspection. In fact it is an unlined concrete aging tank designed by Chapoutier to mimic an ancient amphora. Theoretically the shape of the tank forces the wine to constantly circulate due to a temperature gradient that naturally exists in the liquid; the porous concrete allows subtle microoxygenation. The idea is to age the wines without the use of a barrel.

Here are the wines we tasted:

2010 Casa Sauvignon Blanc

There is 7% Semillon in this wine to round it out a little. Aromas of honeydew melon and tropical fruits were evident, but so was a burnt sulfur smell that was difficult to get around. Later I realized one of the cellar workers was sulfuring some barrels nearby… probably the source, but I can’t say for sure. Other than that, the wine had a nice sharp acidity and a softness on the palate that was good, but I can’t vouch for this one!

2007 Cuvée Alexandre Merlot

This is considered the estate’s flagship wine, a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Carmenere. The nose was quite nice, with chocolaty plums and spice dominating. The tannins were a little too aggressive for my taste. Maybe this one needs a few more years to express itself properly.

2007 Clos Apalta

63% Carmenere, the rest a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, and Petit Verdot. I really liked this one. The aromas of baking spices, vanilla, plums, and intense strawberry fruit were enticing. And there was even a very slight herbal quality. Good soft tannins and a long finish. I decided not to spit this one out.

And a secret bonus wine…

“Terroir Project” Syrah

An experimental Syrah and Viognier (3%) coferment! Aged in used French oak. Made way down in the basement by Diego Urra. The Viognier comes from near the Andes, where its acidity can be balanced with its sugar properly. This was my favorite wine of all. Too bad the only place you can get it is in from a barrel in the deepest depths of the winery.

Our host Diego Urra

For more information, or to set up a visit to Clos Apalta, visit their website here. I would recommend speaking with Diego if possible.

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