With 450 years of history, Chile is one of the New World's oldest wine producers; Chile's wine production precedes California's by more than 200 years and Australia's by nearly 300. The Spanish conquistadores and the missionaries who accompanied them throughout Latin America brought the first grape vines to the New World in the 16th century and embarked on a project to find the most suitable land on which to plant them. Early attempts at wine growing in the Caribbean and Central America were unsuccessful, and as they moved southward they continued their unfruitful attempts to produce the wine that was so much a part of their daily and spiritual lives. It wasn't until the vine reached Chile in around 1550 that viniferous vines found their home in the New World.
Unlike the more tropical climates of its neighbours to the north, central Chile's Mediterranean climate proved ideal for wine grape production. Its long, dry summers with high luminosity and relatively mild temperatures ensure that the grapes easily reach maturity without danger of bunch rot or botrytis. Cold, rainy winters replenish water supplies through run-off from the snow-capped Andean peaks and subterranean water tables. The climate is also directly influenced by the Humboldt current, which brings cold waters up the Pacific coast from the south, causing cold sea air to blow inland and maintain temperatures that are cool and relatively constant.
The Aconcagua Valley in central Chile has a unique microclimate. As well as the altitude of the vineyards and cold air descending from the Andes at night to rest the vines, the Aconcagua river itself provides additional cooling. Here the alluvial soils containing fragments of drift stones from the mountains restrict water retention, avoiding excessive vigour in the vines and tannins in the grapes.
In 1974 Jose Vincente bought two estates here, the La Florida and Paidahuen vineyards, close to the town of San Esteban at the eastern end of the Aconcagua Valley. Today these two estates are planted with vines which are vertically trained on hillsides around the riverbanks at 800 metres above sea level. This is an area that was home to an earlier civilisation whose enigmatic rock drawings reminiscent of spiders' webs are to be seen around the vineyards of Paidahuen, which means "good place." It is one of these drawings which appears on the label of Viña San Esteban's In Situ range.
Bordeaux-trained winemaker Horacio Vincente, Jose's son, has joined his father and makes all Viña San Esteban's wines. He uses winemaking techniques geared towards expressing the unique terroir of the Aconcagua Valley and is committed to production in an environmentally sustainable manner. His winery houses a combination of traditional winemaking equipment and state-of-the-art technology, including modern presses and cooling systems that allow for delicate fruit extraction and temperature control during fermentation. He uses both French and American oak barrels to mature his reserve wines.
In all, Horacio produces no less than eight different ranges, of which The Oxford Wine Company stock four. The Rio Alto range comprises pure, ultra-clean unoaked wines that show remarkable clarity of fruit. The In Situ Winemaker's Selection is made from the best vineyard lots and is aged in a mixture of French and American oak for one year, whilst the In Situ Cabernet Gran Reserva comes from vines grown alongside the mysterious rock drawings and is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Carménère and 5% Cabernet Franc. Horacio's top-of-the-range wine is the Laguna del Inca, a complex blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Sangiovese made from the very finest parcels of fruit grown on the estates. This wine has fantastic concentrated aromas of blackcurrant, menthol and black pepper which lead to ripe tannins and smoky blackcurrant fruit with hints of tobacco and minerals on the finish.
Why not try our Viña San Esteban Mixed Case Offer and see for yourself?