Jorge Matetic, a fifth generation Chilean of Croatian descent took at least two brave moves in 1999. First he decided to diversify his family’s business interests from such prosaic essentials as fence wire into wine production. Second, he decided to plant vineyards in the area of Casablanca, far off the beaten track of the country’s lush Valle Centrale. He bought no less than 46,000 acres.
To put that into perspective it is roughly half the total vineyard area of the whole of New Zealand. Mercifully for the price of Chilean wine, only about 300 acres are planted to vines. The rest are woods, crops and sheep pasture. Since those frontier days, the Casablanca region has become quite a popular viticultural area and is being recognized as the site of distinctive Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
Matetic’s wine maker is the affable Chilean Julio Bastias who came through town recently to present his latest wines. I got a chance to talk to him at Urban Rio where he was leading a tasting and I was an invited guest. As we worked our way through a tasting of his wines he explained the three labels: Matetic, the label for Syrah. EQ, short for equilibrium and designed to convey the winery’s commitment to harmony between soil, climate and vines. Corralillo: wines from the Valle Del Rosario.
Bastias makes all the wines with a common philosophy to be not just organic, but biodynamic. The latter is a method of agriculture based around the theories of Rudolf Steiner. The process of organic and biodynamic agriculture has been in use so long that, just as conventional agriculture has a packaged solution for every crop threat, so does organic/biodynamic. It is just an organic (or biodynamic) packaged solution. Certain problems needed considerable ingenuity to solve. For example, not being able to use insecticides, used to mean that vine rows had to be planted farther apart. Now the solution is to plant them as close as conventional agriculture, but to use a special breed of small sheep to graze in the vineyards and keep weeds under control beneath the vines. The small size of the sheep prevents them reaching up high enough to eat the grapes (poor things).
Matetic’s location means that the range of wines from their own grapes looks different from that of wineries in the central valley. Among the red grapes, Pinot Noir and Syrah figure heavily, although there are small plantings of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The white lexicon looks more conventional (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay leading the plantings) but does have the Alsatian variety Gewürztraminer and Germany’s king of grapes, Riesling. The main difference with the whites is that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the same in name only. The style of each is dramatically removed from the warmer central valley.
That brings us to the wines we tasted. Bastias is not an oaky kind of guy. The 2010 Corralillo Matetic Chardonnay, San Antonio Valley was partly fermented in stainless steel and partly in oak. It was then given a little malolactic fermentation before being aged in fairly neutral oak. The result is a fairly lean, acidic wine with hints of minerality. That is in sharp contrast from the lush, oaky, tropical fruit examples from the central valley.
My favorite wine of the tasting was the next one, 2011 Matetic EQ Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley. The nose is a ringer for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, all grassy herbaceous tones (and not common in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc). In the mouth, however, was an intense fruit backbone of lime and lemon. It went well with Urban Rio’s Crab Claw Ceviche and I think most people would prefer this wine accompanied by food.
We had a 2010 EQ Chardonnay, San Antonio Valley paired skillfully with a Tamale Cake Topped with Salmon Empapelado. Alas, I had already relinquished my glass of the first Chardonnay – the comparison would have been instructive.
Two authoritative reds accompanied our main course of pulled pork tacos with radish, pico and salsa: a 2009 Corralillo Pinot Noir, San Antonio and a 2008 EQ Syrah, San Antonio. The Pinot Noir may have reflected some of Bastias’ time in Sonoma (he worked at Benziger and other wineries for several years). It had the lush, raspberry fruit of a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and a lack of the earthy tones associated with Burgundy. The Syrah was a dark blackberry colored expanse of bacon and herbal notes. Both of these are superior wines.
One problem with Matetic wines is the small production, at least to cover the retail market. Either go to Central Market and special order via their wine specialist or go to one of the restaurants that stocks them. Urban Rio has several.
The Matetic name is one to watch. With 45,700 acres still to plant Jorge Bastias is going to be a busy man!