Push­ing Chile for­ward

Wine­maker Marcelo Papa from Con­cha y Toro launches new la­bel Eti­queta Ne­gra and looks to Chile’s wine fu­ture with op­ti­mism. By June Lee


A lucky break

The first vin­tage of Eti­queta Ne­gra was birthed in early April 2016, a wet, cool year that saw a slight dip in har­vest yields. With El Niño play­ing havoc with the weather that year, wine­mak­ers like Marcelo Papa had a tricky task de­cid­ing when to pick th­ese grapes in Puento Alto, south of San­ti­ago. Too early and the grapes lose the chance to reach phys­i­o­log­i­cal ripeness. Too late and heavy rains could ruin the crop.

Papa is the man in charge of two heavy­weight Con­cha y Toro brands, Casillero del Di­ablo since 1998, and Mar­ques de Casa Con­cha since 1999. A lot has changed in 20 years, and part of it has been get­ting the wines' al­co­hol lev­els down by pick­ing ear­lier, and also chang­ing the style from the brash, op­u­lent wines favoured in the 1990s to a more el­e­gant style be­fit­ting the ter­roir it comes from. Papa, 51, doesn’t seem par­tic­u­larly pushy, but un­der­neath his cheer­ful, open de­meanour is a steely con­vic­tion that bodes well for the wine in­dus­try in a coun­try that’s the fourth most sig­nif­i­cant wine ex­porter in the world. Papa’s four grand­par­ents were from Italy, while his par­ents were born in Chile. Though no one in the fam­ily made wine, a bot­tle of red was usu­ally on the din­ner ta­ble, where it might some­times be mixed with a kind of soda. His in­ter­est was fur­ther piqued when the fam­ily vis­ited an un­cle in Mi­ami, who in­tro­duced the then teenager to wines from around the world. It was enough to in­spire Papa to study agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer­ing, then wine­mak­ing, at the Pon­ti­f­i­cia Uni­ver­si­dad Católica de Chile from 1986 to 1991.

At first, things didn’t look well for Papa. Chile was in an eco­nomic cri­sis in the early 1980s, and wine con­sump­tion was down. Not many stu­dents took up agron­omy or enol­ogy, as the job mar­ket was so slim. Then the op­po­site hap­pened – Chile be­gan ex­port­ing its wines in earnest, and by the time Papa grad­u­ated, his co­hort was in high de­mand as there weren’t enough new grad­u­ates to join the field.

Work­ing un­der leg­endary men­tors like Rafael Guil­isasti and Ig­na­cio Re­cabar­ren when he joined Con­cha y Toro in 1998, Papa was privy to the ex­cit­ing phase that Chilean wines was un­der­go­ing. Plant­ings of Chardon­nay in Casablanca and then in Li­mari for in­stance be­came iconic. “We’re not a ma­ture in­dus­try,” he muses, com­pared to the Old World, “but we’re clearer now than 20 years ago on where to grow grape va­ri­eties.”

Cham­pion for ap­pel­la­tion

The name of Eti­queta Ne­gra, the lat­est la­belling from Mar­ques de Casa Con­cha, trans­lates to black tie, de­not­ing its premium sta­tus. But what it re­ally es­pouses is right on the la­bel, where its lo­ca­tion of Puento Alto takes pride of place over its va­ri­etals – a first for Mar­ques de Casa Con­cha.

“It’s like Barolo or Bordeaux,” notes Papa, where con­sumers prize the ap­pel­la­tion (Barolo) be­fore the va­ri­etal (Neb­bi­olo). As Chile doesn’t have an ap­pel­la­tion sys­tem, there are no of­fi­cial tiers of qual­ity based on ter­roir. How­ever, more winer­ies are start­ing to make a dis­tinc­tion of place on their la­bels, es­pe­cially in ar­eas where the grape and the

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