Chile’s old cabernet vines make their debut

© Lapostole
| The winemaker Andrea León enters the vineyards of La Parcelle 8.

Despite the international popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon, the world has very few old vineyards of it. Most Cabernet vineyards are replanted after about 30 years. Exceptional vineyards can last 50 years.

So I was thrilled to hear that a new wine was being launched by Chilean winery Lapostolle: La Parcelle 8, which comes from a single vineyard of ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines that, in theory, date back to the 1800s. theory, it is the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the world.

The winery does not make this last claim for several reasons. One, who knows what is planted elsewhere? But the Old Vine Register maintained by Jancis Robinson lists only one potential candidate, in the Barossa Valley, in its database of hundreds of vineyards in 20 countries. There are many surviving vineyards from the 1800s, but these are other grape varieties, particularly Carignan, Grenache, Zinfandel and Mission (País). Austria has Gruner Veltliner from the 1800s; Germany has such old Riesling. South Africa has a vineyard that dates back to the 1700s. But no one has kept a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard that long.

The second reason Lapostolle doesn’t make the claim is the same reason France doesn’t have as many old vineyards as you might think. Since purchasing the vineyard in 1994, the owners, who came from France, have practiced layering, a French method of propagation in which new vines are grown by burying live cane in the ground to take root and sprout a new vine. The Lapostolles didn’t tear up the La Parcelle 8 vineyard and replant it, but there are newer vines that have literally grown from the older ones. This therefore raises the question of whether the vineyard is actually “older” than, say, a vineyard planted in the 1970s that has not been revitalized in this way.

“Can we really say that a vineyard is 100 years old? said Charles De Bournet, son of the winery’s founders and now managing director. “We do layering. We lose 3% of our vines every year. So after 33 years, your whole vineyard is regenerated. At the end of the day, it’s always interesting when you talk about the age of a vineyard. have a pergola it’s huge for País.We estimate the vines to be 150 years old.This vineyard is harder to classify.

Nevertheless. Old Cabernet vineyards are rare for a reason. In Bordeaux, opinions are strict on the age of the vines: many of the great châteaux do not put young vines in their flagship wine, but they also regularly replant their vines when productivity drops, generally around 35 years old. This philosophy went with French winemakers around the world in places where Cabernet was planted, and Cabernet was not a popular variety outside of Bordeaux until well after World War II. For example, while California has a number of century-old Zinfandel vineyards, growers in the state weren’t really interested in planting Cabernet until the 1970s; many of Napa Cab’s great vineyards are just 50 years old now.

The vines of Clos Apalta could be among the oldest in the world.

© Lapostole
| The vines of Clos Apalta could be among the oldest in the world.

Find a treasure

It was therefore surprising for Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet to discover the aged plot in the Apalta Valley when they were looking for a location for the Chilean wine estate they wanted to found. Their main business was Grand Marnier; they also owned Château Sancerre, but have since sold both.

“My parents, when they walked into the valley and they saw these old vines, they knew if these vines could survive on their own here, there was no irrigation, if the vines could survive on their own, you have a really special terroir where the vine can live in harmony with nature,” De Bournet told Wine-Searcher.

“Apalta in the local language means ‘bad soil’,” said De Bournet. “It couldn’t grow very much, that’s why (the locals) started growing vines there. Apalta is a place where you have maybe 50 hectares of vines from 1920. Some from 1909. But we don’t “We don’t have any evidence. No one was saying, it was planted at that time.”

The family created Clos Apalta as their flagship wine. It’s a Bordeaux blend, but Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t the leader; it generally has more carménère and merlot. Clos Apalta was the center of attention, and the grapes from Parcel 8 entered it.

“When you look at what Apalta was like in 1994, there wasn’t even a road,” De Bournet said. “There was a small dirt road to get to this vineyard. It is now one of the most prestigious places in South America.”

In 2013, De Bournet took over the estate from his parents and decided to market the Parcelle 8 wine as a single vineyard Cabernet.

“It’s so humbling for us to work with these vines,” winemaker Andrea León told Wine-Searcher. “They are really well balanced. They can adapt to the difference in vintage very early in the season. You don’t have to do a lot of green harvesting. You have to be very precise about how you prune them. We add just a little sulfur for powdery mildew and a little organic oil for spider mite They don’t have a lot of canopy They always have very balanced numbers They don’t go crazy on alcohol They don’t go crazy not low. They have a lot of acidity. They show the granite soil on which they are planted.

“We try to do as little as possible,” León said. “We separate (the grapes) from the stalks. We do a little very gentle treading. We have a beautiful cellar with small French oak vats. We don’t want too hot or too cold. Very slow fermentation. We take care of them in terms of temperature. Sometimes we use the press, sometimes not. They come in a mix of new French oak and old oak. Then we wait.

Waiting is the right word: the first release of this wine this year is from the 2015 vintage.

“We are in no rush,” said De Bournet. “That’s why we’re releasing ’15. People don’t really age wines anymore. I think this wine can age beautifully. If I had released it in ’17, it would all be drunk already. I really want to show the Le Chili suffers from this reputation that our wines can’t age. I think that’s wrong. I think these wines are proof that if you do it right, these wines can age as well as any premier Bordeaux. believed.”

The wine is quite dense and benefits from decantation or time in the glass. You can tell why the extra age was necessary: ​​even with long-lasting ripe dark fruit, the tannins are terrific. It has good length and lovely violet and slate notes on the nose, but if you buy it consider keeping it for another 5-10 years or more.

“We could release ’14 next, or one day ’17,” De Bournet said. “It’s such a small production: less than 12,000 bottles. We have the luxury of doing what we want. These are old vines. They do not produce 8000 kilos per year every year. of wine, but ’16, ’17 and ’18 were not the same. We don’t have that much wine. A thousand cases of a wine that costs more than $100 in the United States is a lot. Didn’t expect to sell We sold out in less than three weeks.

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