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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, 16 August 2010 17:55

Chile: Koyle- Iconic Wines in Making

Named after a native Chilean plant, this new premium winery from Colchagua Valley is sure to become iconic before the end of the coming decade, believes Subhash Arora who met the winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga and shared the vision and vine growing philosophy of the Undurragas and tasted the limited range of wines they currently produce.

Cristobal Undurraga loves cactus in his vineyard.

Not many people may have yet heard of Koyle, although the name Undurraga might ring some bells- Undurraga has had a phenomenal growth in the Chilean ‘vinescape’ owning over 1000 hAs of vines, making it one of the biggest family owned wineries in Chile. The 5th generation run, highly acclaimed and profitable winery- Undurraga, was sold in 2006, due to the family becoming too big and consequent management issues, according to Cristóbal who has already made a name for himself as a fine winemaker in Chile.

The Young Winemaker

After doing his enology degree in the Catholic University in Santiago, Cristobal spent a year in Chateau Margaux for a year under their winemaker Paul Pontillier who had earlier worked under his father Alfonso Undurraga, great-grand nephew of Francesco the winey founder in 1880s. He also worked with Rosemount in Hunter Valley, South Australia. In 2002 he joined Montes under the iconic winemaker-partner Aurelio Montes, again because Aurelio had worked under his father from 1972-86, he says.

Despite his father being the President of an ever expanding wine company, he chose to stay away as he felt it would be too boring and mundane to work in the family run, well-established wine business with too many members already involved. He did start a new project Toso in Mendoza Argentina, making a modest 500 cases, which he sold before coming back in 2007 to start the Koyle project. His father also started another winery Terrapura at the same time, producing value-for-money wines but it is being looked after by his two brothers.

Organic and Bio-dynamic farming

Koyle Plant growing at the Vineyard

Tucked in the foothills of Andes in Colchagua Valley (this entitles them to designate the region as Alto Colchagua, just like other sub-divisions like Alto Cachapoal and Alto Maipo, indicative of cooler climate). The vineyard bought by Alfonso Undurraga from his share of the proceeds of the sale of the earlier company, are being farmed organically and bio-dynamically. In fact, the winery applied for the certification only a year after the planting started in 2007. The 4-year mandatory certification process will be completed in 2012 by which time they would be fully bio-dynamic vineyard with a brand new winery, says Cristobal.

‘We feel this is the best way if expressing a terroir,’ explains the younger Undurraga, adding that they let loose around a hundred sheep in the vineyard in winter to enable them to make compost. Wind coming from the Andes refreshes the grapes and he is very proud of the resultant ‘freshness in our wines which is what we are looking for.’

Vineyard Chart based on Moon position

The winery is being leased so far but the work on their own facility is about to start. ‘I promise you it would be completed along with a guest house by the time you visit us again next year,’ promises Cristobal who has his work defined on a daily basis by their bio-dynamic viticulture consultant who has charted out the various processes based on the moon positions for the whole year.

Grapes of Koyle

Concentrating only at Cabernet and Syrah though seven varieties including Carmenere, Carignan and Malbec have been planted, the focus of the company has been on terroir driven wines. The grapes are currently being bought from the 3-4 grape growers who had been selling to the family winery on a long- contract basis and who chose not to collaborate with the new owners and preferred to stay with his father with whom Cristobal started the project, thus ensuring the continuous supply of quality grapes. 

At the moment, the company is making only two varietals Cabernet and Syrah (Chileans are proud of their French connection and generally dislike the varietal being referred to as Shiraz-the Aussie avtar). The Reserva series retails for $15 in the USA while the Royale series is at $25-26. It is a compliment to the quality that they are already successful in the tough monopoly markets of Vancouver, Ottawa and Quebec. They are also being sold in countries like USA, UK, Puerto Rico, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine and South American countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong are already importing from Asia.

Koyle is also coming out with a Cuvee for 2010 in which some of the grapes used will be estate grown. ‘Using proper green harvest techniques, we can also have good quality grapes from young vines, like ours,’ opined Cristobal.
Taste of Quality

Tasting Koyle with Cristobal in the Tasting Room with vineyards as the backdrop

Tasting of 8 wines- both in the Reserva and Royale range in Cabernet and Syrah for 2007 and 2008 would convince anyone that they are all delicious, high scoring and value for money premium wines. Cristobal uses 85% of the varietal and blends with different grapes like Carmenere and Malbec to bring out the best in the flavours. My scores showed 8/10 to 9/10 for all eight wines tasted. While Royale would be an excellent choice for a premium wine listing in any discernible hotel or restaurant, the Reserva will also pass muster but should also be a good buy if available at Rs.1600/1900 a bottle for connoisseurs.

It is a matter of time before some discerning importer will grab this winery for wine import in India and have the relationship on a solid footing by the time it becomes globally an iconic name for premium wines.

Contact Cristobal Undurraga, Viticulturist and winemaker, Viña Koyle, Los Lingues, San Fernando at  or visit

Subhash Arora


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