Casa Lapostolle and the Wines of Chile

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Although it is considered New World, Chile has been growing wine since the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadors brought vitis vinifera vines with them during their colonization of the region. About the mid-18th century, several French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenère were also introduced to the region.

Chile’s five viticultural regions occupy an 800 mile stretch, in a country 2,700 miles long and 109 miles wide. The most common red grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère – a grape originally from the Medoc region, but which has all but disappeared from Bordeaux since the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th Century.

During the early 1980s, Chilean wineries modernized their production, bringing in stainless steel tanks for fermentation and oak barrels for aging. These were fast times, and the number of wineries grew from 12 in 1995 to over 70 in 2005. The increase in production was matched with wine exports as well, with Chile becoming the fifth largest exporter of wines, and the ninth largest producer in the world.

Join us as we talk with Andrea Leon, winemaker for Casa Lapostolle. Founded by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, her husband Cyril de Bournet and Don José Rabat Gorchs, Casa Lapostolle began as an effort to blend French expertise with Chilean terroir. Certified as Carbon Neutral for its recycling and renewable energy efforts, the winery practices biodynamic farming, and have been a leader in the “Green” movement in Chile.

For more information on Casa Lapostolle: www.casalapostolle.com

Sponsor: VinAssure, Wine Preservation System: www.vinassure.com

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Show #266
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19 Responses to “Casa Lapostolle and the Wines of Chile”


  1. 1 Doug Smith Apr 27th, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Interesting show, Andrea Leon seems like a nice person.

    It’s unfortunate that she seems to have swallowed some of the spiritual aspects of Biodynamics, which are liable to be a complete waste of time and money for her company and her workers. In particular, there is no evidence that lunar cycles make any difference to wine grapes, and no evidence nor even a plausible mechanism of action for those cycles to make any difference to barrels in a closed cellar. The typical mistake is that people think tidal effects make a difference, when the tidal effect of the winemaker walking between the barrels is itself larger than that of the moon. And apart from tidal effects and light, the moon simply has no way to effect anything down here on earth; not directly, anyhow.

    Failing a careful, controlled study, and a plausible method of action, these amount to nothing more than superstitions.

    Being organic can be very good for soil and vine health. Using good compost, the same. But Biodynamics includes a mass of simply useless rituals, which credulous winemakers often swallow along with the good stuff. It’s unfortunate to reinforce bad information.

  2. 2 GrapeRadio Bunch Apr 27th, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Doug, how do you explain why people hold onto these beliefs!

    Jay

  3. 3 Doug Smith Apr 28th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Jay, it’s for the same reason that people believe in astrology, homeopathy, or prayer healing long after they have been told that there is no evidence for them nor even proposed methods of action. People are poor at reasoning about causation, and tend to take personal anecdote as probative, even in the face of long standing scientific data and well designed, statistically controlled testing. This syndrome is so well known now, it is almost banal. Story beats data.

  4. 4 GrapeRadio Bunch Apr 28th, 2010 at 8:35 am

    So Doug, you’re saying there’s no guy in a red suit that delivers billions of presents one night of the year in the dead of Winter? What a bringdown.

    Eric

  5. 5 Doug Smith Apr 28th, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Where’s the LOL smiley?

    :-)

  6. 6 GrapeRadio Bunch Apr 28th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I was too depressed to use a smiley.

    Oh well, at least I still have the Easter Bunny.

  7. 7 Todd Hansen Apr 29th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    What a great show! Brought back memories of a trip to Chile back in early 1998. We took a weekend trek out to the Casablanca Valley and had some very good wines and met some wonderful people. Amazing countryside. We drove a Toyota Tercel over rock (not gravel) roads across streams and thousands of feet above the tree line to the Argentine border. I hold that trip and a subsequent voyage to the vineyards of South Africa (particularly a beautiful spot called Thelema Vineyards) responsible for my current condition (a syndrome I call “vineyard induced destitution”).
    Andrea is a wonderful spokesperson – so informative and none of the “sell, sell, sell.” Well done, guys. Made for a great day — despite the broken mower.

  8. 8 Andrea Apr 30th, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Well, interesting to see a made a debate, so at least word where not spoken trought the aire. It was a pleasure to share an interesting conversation and I am very used to see the esceptic response to come along.
    A few things: FYI it is really bad to rack wine with a fool moon, NTU measured and all, barrels over flow during full moon. Any well skilled cellarmaster in Bordeaux know not to rack during certains days a month. That is when you do a “soutirage au fin”, the wine racked wont be as clear as made in a growing moon period. We had made many trials comparing preparations with organic products against Oidium. And the results are not definitive (you nedd 5 years of trials) but quite surprising.
    Today witmaking wine with all the machinery and volume, of course those things are completly irrelevant, just stick the stuff in the centrigue and that is that.
    That is just one tiny example. Biodinamics is way more than rituals abd widchraft. But it is definitly not for everybody and every condition and the most importante IS THAT THE QUALITY OF WINE MUST BE THE ULTIMATE GOAL AND IF IT IS IN A GREEN/ORGANIC/BIODYNAMIC WAY THE BETTER. It biodymanic means making a worse wine, well we are in truble, but at least in our particular case, we seem to have better balance in the vines As for the wine, we need more time to have a final judgement. The vines are well balanced and more healty than ever, may be it is just that we are paying much more attention to the details, now that we have to and that we are lucky to have the time and pace to do it.

    Have a good week end and keep drinking wine (chilean better)
    Andrea

  9. 9 Doug Smith Apr 30th, 2010 at 10:54 am

    If wine barrels typically overflowed during a full moon, then that same full moon would effect any number of delicate chemistry experiments worldwide, and the process would be easily detectable. It would no longer be in the realm of mere hypothesis.

    The fact that chemists do not track the full moon when doing experiments with liquid volume and the like means that these claims are — shall we say — dubious. They certainly require more than anecdote.

    Also do recall that the moon is in the sky even when it is not full, and has the same gravitational force on us at all times. It is only coming from a different direction. Its tidal force, however, is miniscule, and surpassed by any large object moving in the vicinity of the barrels. So if the tidal force is what is stirring up the lees, the last thing one ought to do is allow any humans in with the barrels. They will have a much greater tidal effect than the moon, full or not.

    (NB: a full moon has no more tidal effect on us than a moon at any other time of the month).

    The concern with these claims is that without any coherent method of action, they sound an awful lot like astrology. The same is true of Maria Thun’s Biodynamic work, much of which is overtly astrological.

  10. 10 Andrea Apr 30th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Hey! I was cought in a non important discussion (probably due to the nice dose of sarcasm in it), when my first idea here was to thanks you so much for the real treat and surprise that was tasing a bottle of Clos Apalta 1997 during the show. We have only a few bottles left in the cellar, so that was a REALL WOW factor.
    Again many thanks for the gesture. I hope you can come an visit us soon to have a firts hand impression.
    Cheers

    See Santa exists he just dont wear the red suit and he can came all year round if you keep you eyes open…

  11. 11 GrapeRadio Bunch May 2nd, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Andrea, it was my pleasure to open the 1997 with you. A very special moment that will stay with me.

    BTW, to be clear, Eric’s comment was directed at Doug and was his attempt at humor and not a reflection of his thoughts on bio-dynamics.

    Doug, just because science is unaware of the forces at work (if any), that does not mean they do not exist. For example,only a few years ago, scientists acknowledged the existence of “dark matter”. Not a trivial discovery.

    Perhaps there is some dark energy that we have yet to understand? While i realize that observation is not proof, there seems to be some forces at work based on the repeated observations that are being made.

    Jay

  12. 12 Doug Smith May 3rd, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Hi Jay,

    Sure, it’s always possible that these anecdotes are based on an entirely new field of physics, one that will win someone a Nobel Prize. But let’s be honest: that’s what they say about every pseudoscience. The problem is that *if* these “forces” existed generally, they would have been detected by people doing experiments for other purposes. (E.g., as I said before, with other liquids at the full moon).

    So we have a choice: either there is some different physical law that effects wine in barrels and no other liquids, or people get very superstitious about the full moon. Recall that people have been making false statements about the full moon for a very long time (e.g., that there are more admissions to emergency rooms, etc., which has been proven false in statistical analysis).

    I’d put it this way: the full moon has a definite effect. It’s psychological.

    The problem with these “repeated observations” is that they are like the repeated observations of people who claim to get better from taking homeopathic medicines, or who claim that their horoscopes give them real information about the future. That is, they are not done under properly controlled conditions, and appear to depend on there being forces with macroscopic effects that are contrary to physical law.

    Comparing this to “dark matter” is a real stretch, BTW. “Dark matter” has no effect on a human scale. One might say, if physicists and astronomers have instruments sensitive enough to detect the faint signature of dark matter, and yet are unaware of these effects that makes them less likely, not more.

    What I’d like to see are two things:

    (1) Some attempt by believers to come up with plausible methods of action. Since these cannot involve the direct influence of the moon on barrels in a cellar, they must involve some indirect method. Is the moonlight effecting moths outside, which come into the winery at night or something?

    (2) Some attempt to contact local scientists and come up with properly designed, controlled experiments, that could be published in high quality, peer reviewed scientific journals. After all, if we’re talking about new physical forces, there could be Nobels for all. But if you’re going to do that, be prepared to decide that it’s all an illusion.

  13. 13 GrapeRadio Bunch May 3rd, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Doug,

    I don’t know much about the chemistry/lab aspects of making the wine and what does or does not happen in the barrel but I can tell you in the vineyard this bio-dynamic stuff seems to have an impact, at least visually.

    When I walk though a bio-dynamic ally farmed vineyard and then though its neighbor a few yards away that is using traditional farming methods and chemicals – there is a noticeable difference between the plants.

    The bio-dynamic vineyard looks super healthy, the leaves are so dark green and thick they seem to be made out of leather. Maybe it’s just that the bio-dynamic vineyard is getting more attention and therefore more care. Who knows but there is something to this – and I have seen examples of it firsthand all over the world. Something seems to make a difference.

    Brian

  14. 14 Doug Smith May 3rd, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Brian, the problem is that none of this has been verified by careful experiment, where the only variable are the BD preparations, and plenty of it has been shot down. One has to be careful in comparing side-by-side vineyards, unless one knows precisely how each has been tended. I can’t tell you how many people have said what you said, without realizing that the other vineyard was conventionally treated, i.e. non-organic. (And even organic vineyards (and BD ones …) can use some very potent chemicals, like copper sulphate).

    BTW, if by “traditional” you mean “conventional”, then the point I’m making is particularly pertinent. As we have repeated time and again in our papers and comments, organic farming methods do produce healthier plants and soils than conventional methods that overuse powerful fungicides, insecticides and herbicides. To compare a BD vineyard to a conventional one is simply comparing apples to oranges. The work is being done by the vineyard’s organic nature, and by high quality organic mulch, not by the lunar rituals and cow horn preps.

    So you really have to be very careful about what’s being compared.

  15. 15 GrapeRadio Bunch May 3rd, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I am sure it just a matter of time before someone does a scientific side by side study to find out what the difference really is.

    Brian

  16. 16 Doug Smith May 3rd, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Well, there has been one side-by-side study on wine grapes, done in a peer reviewed journal. We discussed it in our paper:

    http://www.csicop.org/si/show/biodynamics_in_the_wine_bottle/

    They found that the Biodynamic preps made no difference. It’s all in the organics.

  17. 17 John A. Martelly May 4th, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Thank Doug. Christmas is like, wrecked forever. LOL, still loved the show. I’m very interested in trying the Carménère. I think it is a very intriguing varietal that is on its’ way to finding a new footing. I love Carménère for that coffee grind, dark chocolate and currant aspect. But sometimes Carménère can be like smoking a cigarette and chewing tobacco while riding a unicycle through a house fire (unicycle = no balance). The prospect of this grape becoming more popular gets me more excited that the Garnacha kick everyone seems to be getting on.

    BTW, If the movie Sideways helped to propel Pinot Noir into the stratosphere, what would the title be for the Garnacha movie? Would it be Backwards?

  18. 18 Peter May 9th, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    I think Jay’s point about dark matter was that there are things in the universe that we do not yet understand. Certain things are being discovered as we speak and more will in the future. Plants react in ways that conventional science can not completely describe. “The secret life of plants” highlights a bunch of documented experiments about plants behavior and reactions – interestign reading.

    We are lead to belive that if a matter, reaction etc. can not be explained using conventional science it does not exist. We can chose to belive this or not.

    I sometimes wish I had had the time and energy do so parallel experiments with my vinyards when I converted to BD. On the other hand I know that moving to BD did not make anything worse – the vineyards are now in better shape than they have ever been. Is that because of BD farming? Organic? More mature vineyard? More expeience? Or a combination – which is what we believe.

    Didn’t Jim Fetzer do some side by side experiments?

  19. 19 Justin May 28th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Andrea, where’s this competition that was discussed? I couldn’t find anything on the site.

    I moved to Chile in August of last year to learn Spanish, Ski, and drink wine (not necessarily in that order). I’m still here and … I’M MAKING MY OWN WINE! It has been a very rewarding, and extremely humbling experience – a continuing experience.

    Anyway, i want to win! I want to live and breath wine (for a little while at least).

    Justin
    PS — Fantastic show.

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

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