Tod Stewart talks to Sven Bruchfeld, the young winemaker at the helm of Chile’s dynamic Viña Santa Carolina. Here is his conversation.
Can winemaking be considered an extreme sport? Both sets of activities entail a certain degree of risk taking, calculation and, at times, intuition. And while screwing up on the timing of your harvest may not have quite the same impact as screwing up on a harness, both can certainly be career ending. As it turns out, Sven Bruchfeld approaches winemaking and risky recreation with equal passion. Born in Chile, schooled at UC Davis and employed at one time or another in at least four different countries, Bruchfeld is now back on home turf. Tidings chatted with him about rumours, reality and his role in shaping the future direction of Santa Carolina.
Let’s start by dealing with a persistent rumour. Quite a few people have told me they avoid Chilean wines because they claim they are full of chemicals — the wines, not the people making the claim. Have you heard of this and what do you think is behind it?
I’ve heard it many times and I have no idea where it’s coming from. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Chile is a country that uses fewer chemicals in the vineyard than probably any other country in the world. Sure, we use certain sprays, but so does everybody else. Besides Chile, I’ve worked in Germany, Australia and France, and in all those places — especially Germany — we were spraying at least three times more than we do in Chile.
What, in your mind, makes the Chilean wine industry different from the other countries in which you’ve worked?
Chile is, relatively speaking, a new wine-growing country. Yes, we have been making wine for over 500 years, but the serious wine industry in Chile only started in the 1990s — probably only in the mid-1990s. So it’s a very young industry. Compared to the Old World, I think the differences in winemaking are huge and the difference in concept is tremendous.
What brought you to Santa Carolina?
I got the invitation to join Santa Carolina a year ago, and I felt very honoured. Santa Carolina is one of the traditional wineries in Chile. I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a position where I could, more or less, do what I want. Of course, I didn’t really need to change anything — but the freedom to do so was appealing.
Wasn’t there anything you wanted to change?
To be honest, we had a Gewürztraminer that was very successful, but I personally didn’t like it, so we completely changed the style. And I’m convinced, still, that this new style is better.
Other than adjusting the style of some of the wines, what else is Santa Carolina doing to improve?
We’re are developing different vineyard areas in some challenging places. We have some property in Maipo, right near Santiago, that would have been used for housing but we knew it would be prime vineyard location. We currently have vineyards in the Casablanca, Maipo and Rapel valleys.
Sauvignon Blanc seems, at least to me, to do very well in Chile. As a winemaker, what is this variety like to work with?
In terms of winemaking, Sauvignon Blanc is extremely boring! About the only thing a winemaker can do is screw it up. The more you do things to it, the more you lose it. Making Sauvignon Blanc wines, from the basic to the most complex, is a pretty simple, straightforward procedure. You just have to make sure you harvest quickly and at the right time, since this grape has a short maturity window.
Chardonnay, then, would be a bit of a different animal?
Yes. Chardonnay is much more of wine that is actually “made” by the winemaker. Oak, malolactic, lees aging — all these can be used by the winemaker to add to or change the wine’s character.
Do winemaking and [your favourite] extreme sport like rock climbing have anything in common?
In both cases you have to plan ahead. And when you run into trouble doing either one of those two things you have to take the same approach — stay calm, assess the situation, sort through the problem step by step, consider all the options and break the situation down into things that you can tackle one at a time; don’t try and solve the whole problem immediately in one attempt. It’s a good approach for both winemaking and rock climbing. And life, for that matter.
Santa Carolina “Reserva” Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($11.95)
Fruit for this wine was sourced from both the Rapel and Casablanca valleys. Sweet pink grapefruit on the nose with some mild herbal/grassy notes. Zesty and ripe with tropical fruit/grapefruit overtones.
Santa Carolina “Barrica Selection” Chardonnay 2005 ($15.95)
The “Barrica Selection” wines are small-production, super-premium bottlings from selected vineyards in the best areas for each variety. Casablanca Valley fruit gives this full-bodied Chard ripe, tropical-fruit aromas (mango, banana) along with some spiced apple, vanilla and pear notes. Rich on the palate with mild spice, toasty baked apple and melon flavours, it finishes long with a little spice.
Santa Carolina “Barrica Selection” Petit Verdot 2005 ($15.95)
Not a grape variety you typically see bottled on its own (in fact, a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon was blended in to add length); Bruchfeld’s rendition shows an intriguing collage of cedar, licorice, black cherry, blueberry and aromatic spices in a dense, concentrated, tight, powerful package.
Santa Carolina “Barrica Selection” Syrah 2005 ($15.95)
Smoky, dusty aromas accentuated by some herbal, anise, slate and black-raspberry nuances. Rich yet elegant, with a nice interplay of black fruit, mineral, smoke and herbal/spice flavours.
Santa Carolina “Reserva de Familia” Carmenere 2005 ($19.95)
Bordeaux’s loss has been Chile’s gain as this exiled variety now stands as Chile’s “signature” red-wine grape. Fruit from the Rapel Valley is used in this wine and it contributes to the complex spicy, black-cherry/currant, pepper, mocha and dill aromas. Ripe, with moderate tannins, this blockbuster sports flavours hinting at mocha, cocoa and cassis. The finish is long, intense and spicy.