Photo: Andrea Leon Chilean winemaker of the year 2017 monochrome portrait in studio by Matt Wilson
For most of us, our experience with a wine begins when it is uncorked, and ends with the last sip. So when we have the opportunity to speak with those who truly live and breathe wine, we do not pass it up.
Today we spoke with Andrea Leon, a winemaker living amongst the vines in Colchagua Valleyin Chile. And when we say amongst the vines, we mean it. She and her family live right next to their vines, giving them a direct feel for the earth and how it shapes their wine.
Exploring the valley
How does one “get into” wine? For some it is a journey of surprise, starting from their first bottle of wine. They may fall in love with the world, and find joy in travelling and tasting new wines any chance they get.
Others seem to grow into wine the way grapes grow from a vine. Andrea first fell in love with the land which gives wine it’s character. In a family of artists, Her draw towards nature led her to explore her creativity in a different way, expanding into the peaceful countryside and the plants and animals which blossomed there.
The natural extension of this interest is the vines she discovered as an adult. The world of wine started to surround Andrea as she learned more in college, studying agricultural engineering and majoring in Viticulture and Oenology.
Her early exploration led her to travelling and making wine in countries such as France, USA, Italy, and even New Zealand. Eventually, though, the Chilean countryside called her back.
Andrea has since found her home at Lapostolle Wines in Cunaco, where she has spent years creating unforgettable wines.
What was once a simple interest has now turned into a vibrant career.
The grapes don’t lie
Andrea’s love for the Chilean landscape obviously blends well with her background in agricultural engineering. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding…or grapes in this case.
Unlike the sort of ‘anything goes’ attitude many movies portray when it comes to winemaking, each bottle is an exclusive club, and a lot of care goes into the exact direction the winemaker wants to take. Andrea has it down to an art.
We asked exactly what she looks for when it comes to a new wine. She puts it very eloquently:
“I look for wines with character, singularity…wines that speak about the
places and the people they came from. I think the technical side is very important,
But I also value intuition, and look for wine that will tell a story.”
So wine, as she makes it, is both expressive art and exact science.
As an oenologist, Andrea works alongside viticulturists and winemakers to explore the characteristics of each block of vines, to pull the best possible aspects from the grapes. This can be challenging, thanks in part to the ever-changing conditions of each and every vintage.
Yet as Andrea sees it, the potential is always there. Each grape has the potential to add to a successful vintage. And a good vintage is generally one with balanced grape growing conditions, where you can reach the right maturity level with the vineyard and where there is ageing potential.
When harvest time comes, it is time to pluck that potential from every branch and discover new characteristics.
Harvest is the result of a year of effort in the vineyard. As such, everything comes to a head during harvest season – and it can be understandably stressful and intense. As Andrea notes, this is the moment of truth.
The length of the harvest changes depending on the size of the winery and how many varieties they grow.
For Andrea, this process starts with the Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc in mid February and ends somewhere around the first week of May with Carmenere. That is a long stretch of time to dedicate to a harvest.
Though it can be stressful, harvest is also a time to celebrate, to explore the potential success of the wine, to uncork a few bottles and give thanks to generous vines!
In the end, a good harvest pays off in a big way. For instance, the team at Lapostolle brings in an average of 1.5 million kilos of grapes. Now THAT is a lot of potential.
Yet while the potential may be born on the vines, the true mark of a winemaker is how well they can let that potential shine in the cellar and on every table after.
Andrea is a part of it all, from viticulture and production to communication, mingling with the press, and toasting with buyers. Everything is within her reach!
Explore the region with every taste bud
Traditionally, Chile has focused on delivering great value wines. Winemakers such as Andrea look to change this image by innovating the region’s winemaking. The ultimate aim is to add Chile’s name to the list of world class wine regions.
Winemakers like Andrea help the effort by bringing the story forth from every bottle on our tables. In their hands are the tales of the region, delivered to our happy taste buds.
Part of this storytelling lies in using varietals that are outside of the norm. At Lapostolle, the team uses an innovative range of non-traditional wines, such as Carignan, Mourvedre, and Cinsault – hardly everyday names.
They also use the lost Bordeaux variety Carmenere, which is bottled alone and also makes its way into some blends.
Andrea also notes that many Mediterranean varietals adapt themselves well to Colchagua, as the conditions are relatively dry and hot.
These non-traditional wines help bring new characteristics to every bottle, and are part of Lapostolle’s unique take on the region.
If the wine isn’t enough to book your tickets, the region itself plays host to some amazing scenery and weather. Chile’s wine areas have 4 truly distinct seasons, each with their own charms. Naturally, the winemaker in Andrea has to love the spring and fall. In spring, the region comes alive with blossoms. If you look, you feel like you could almost watch the vines wake from the slumbers of winter. It marks a new beginning, and a hopeful start to a new season.
Fall, of course, is marked by vibrant, rich contrast in the colors of the valley. The hills seem to be painted in different hues, and the vineyards take on new life, itching for the coming harvest.
Whenever you go, make sure to stop by Cunaco, home to Lapostolle Wines. Give Andrea a good Salud! from us.
An insider tip for every sip
In some industries, insider tips are illegal. In ours, they are encouraged! We asked Andrea to share a a tip with us for the average winemaker or enthusiast.
For people who want to know more about winemaking, here is Andrea’s bit of gold for you:
“First, try, taste, explore, and open your boundaries…do wine courses, anywhere from your local venue to the WSET or Somms association…There are even a number of web resources!”
All throughout, Andrea seems to emphasize exploration. From region and terroir to ways of thinking about about a topic. If you keep exploring, you keep growing – a must in this ever-changing industry.
What the future holds
As every expansive winemaker such as Andrea knows, there is no “end” in sight. There are always new territories to explore, both in the physical world and in the realm of our understanding. As for future plans, The winemaker in Andrea sees her own vineyard on the horizon.
In the more immediate future, Andrea Leon sees herself with a good glass of wine in hand, enjoying the Chilean sunset.
We are right there with you, Andrea.
Chilean Winemaker of the year 2017
Written by: Birdie deQuay
Photos by: Matt Wilson
For more information about Andrea and LAPOSTOLLE Wines:
Ruta 90 Km 36,
Cunaquito, Santa Cruz
Phone:(56 72) 2953 301
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