by Nick Adams
If there is one New World country which has moved onwards and upwards at pace in the last 30 years, it must be Chile. Here in some of the most natural growing environments anywhere in the world producers have been quick to identify those regions which offer cool climate qualities as well as though warmer ones for bigger, richer (mainly red) wine production. One of those was Casas del Bosque who were one of the pioneers of Casablanca Valley viticulture and its now unquestioned position as one of the finest winemaking regions in Chile.
Casas del Bosque was founded in 1993 by Juan Cúneo Solari in the then nascent Casablanca Valley to the northwest of Santiago. To this day it has remained family owned and over that period they have acquired and developed nearly 230 hectares of vineyards in the Santa Rosa region in the west of the Valley. Here the main plantings include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Noir as follows:
- Sauvignon Blanc 50%
- Pinot Noir 25%
- Chardonnay & Syrah 20% (roughly 50:50)
- Then a little Riesling and Malbec
They also purchase fruit from contract growers (in other areas of Chile) where they have developed a network of long-term contract and partnerships arrangements to complement their own portfolio.
The Casablanca Valley is now firmly established as one of the leading cool climate areas in Chile with the environment to make elegant and refined varietal wines which also showcase intense fruit levels and purity. Their own Casablanca vineyards are all maintained via drip irrigation from underground wells they have created. The soils are a mix of red clay of volcanic origin with a mother rock of decomposed granite.
But an increasingly important aspect for them has been their approach to respecting their environment and managing resources in a much sounder ecological manner and practice. Apart from their own self sufficient drip irrigation system, other examples include
- Recycling of spent water in the winery which is used to water all their gardens near the winery
- An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy by managing this via the use of natural predators
- A movement to complete and certified vineyard organic processes, with natural composting and weed controls
- Protection of all native flora and fauna (such as guaras which are a particularly important plant for bees)
- Formally accredited with the Sustainability Code of the Chilean Wine Industry, which includes formal commitments to recycling as well as respect for their workers and suppliers under a Code of Ethics decree
- A formal Waste Management policy to oversee and manage the above
Today, Casa del Bosque produces around 100,000 cases of wine per year with nearly 80% accounted for by exports to over 50 countries. In 2010 it was voted the “Best Vineyard Visit in Chile” and in 2013 and 2014 was chosen by the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWCS) as “Chilean Wine Producer of the Year” and to quote Casas del Bosque themselves “Our constant search is for excellence … all the work that goes on behind the scenes at the vineyard is thanks to the dedication of our teams who care about every single detail. Our terroir combines the optimum condition of soil, climate, and vineyard management to develop wines with unique character”
The Winemaking Team
The winemaking is overseen by Alberto Guolo who was originally from Italy. He has graduated in both vine growing and winemaking and has a BSc from the University of Padua. Before arriving at Casa del Bosque in 2017, he worked in both New Zealand and California (as well as Italy). Alberto has worked especially hard in that time to elevate the quality of wines and enhance the fruit and aromatic qualities of cool climate varieties in Casablanca.
Viticulture (and assisted winemaking) is overseen by José Ignacio Canales who has a degree in Biology and Microbiology from the Valparaiso University in Chile. He is also holds a Master in Winemaking and Viticulture from the Universidad de Chile. Before joining Casa del Bosque (in 2021) he worked with several other renowned Chilean wineries as well as gaining further international experience with Villa Maria in Marlborough New Zealand.
The third member of the main team is Master of Wine Sam Harrop who has over 25 years of international winemaking experience. A “Kiwi”, Sam cut his teeth with Villa Maria and Esk Valley in New Zealand in the 1990s before expanding his CV in Spain, California, and Australia. He brings what might be termed as a holistic vision to Casa del Bosque which will assist in their marketing and branding of their wines as much as their manufacture.
Casas del Bosque is a pertinent example and a true representation of the modern face of Chilean winemaking. They balance respect for the environment with a sense of scale and precision which is to be admired. They have been a long-term favourite with Wine Trust, and I would encourage you to taste the quality and diversity of their work with the 4 mixed varietal wines below.
The Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Gran Reserva Syrah all come from estate grown fruit in the Casablanca Valley. The Sauvignon is lovely and crisp and an ideal alternative for those who enjoy the Kiwi style of this grape. Try it with light fish and shellfish dishes or vegetable crudités. The Chardonnay combines ripe, mildly tropical fruit with gentle oak and freshness. Will work well with oiler fish and a butter sauce for example. The Syrah is outstanding, and they are building a serious reputation for this variety – it drinks like a halfway house stylistically between a Rhône and an Australian example(s). it has lovely silky blackberry fruit and soft spice with a smooth mouthfeel. Try it with any red meats dishes or game even char grilled. The Carmenère comes from partner contract growers in the inland Rapel Valley where this later ripening variety performs well. Quite rich with dark and black fruit character, a touch of toast and peppery spice. It works very well with a lamb or vegetable curry.