Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Meeting Juan Pelizzatti of Chakana Wines…

It takes a brave man or woman to set up a winery. As many winemakers will tell you, the only way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large fortune and then invest in a winery. So what compels someone to start from scratch with their own wine business and how do they succeed when so many others fail?

Juan Pelizzatti set up Chakana wines in Argentina’s Lujan de Cuyo region in 2001 at the height of Argentina’s financial crisis. He produced his first wines in 2002 and his wines are now exported all around the world.  Last week he came into the office to show the buyers the new vintage wines and I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say…


I read you used to work in telecommunications – what made you move into the world of wine?
I like to think of it as a pending assignment that has transcended generations. My father’s family produced wine until the 1960’s in Valtellina, Italy. At that time, the business was sold to foreign investors. Then, just before the tragic December of 2001 when Argentina’s institutions collapsed, I had finished a sommelier course I started with no other goal in mind than the pleasure of tasting. But the crisis created the context for a review of my goals and motivations and gave me the courage to start from scratch. Wine just seemed the natural choice…

It’s only ten years since you first set up Chakana and yet you’ve already received great reviews from the likes of Robert Parker & Wine Spectator – what do you think has been key to your success?
I only understand success as the possibility to continue exploring nature and the human senses in a sustainable way (from a social, agricultural and financial perspective). I believe the key factor that keeps us alive is an honest commitment to learning in every aspect.

When did Alberto Antonini come on board – what made you seek him out and what has he brought to the team?
Alberto came on board in 2006. He made an extraordinary contribution. Not only in the technical aspects regarding winemaking, but mostly in helping us have a deeper understanding of the wine business and its true meaning. We decided to work with him because we wanted to have an international perspective in the team and to have access to the latest know how. We found a master that guides us in expressing our most inner self.

How would you describe the Chakana winemaking philosophy?
We believe wine is the most sophisticated and sensory challenging nourishment humans have discovered. Our goal as winemakers is to find in nature the ultimate tasting experience. This can only be achieved through the understanding of nature’s conditions and the respect of its expression. Our work is focused on understanding the vine and its expressions in the soils and climates of Argentina and on how to translate these with minimum intervention into a compelling experience for the taste.

Is the notion of terroir just as important in Argentina as it is in the ‘old world’?
I think this notion is only now starting to emerge, but it will take time for Argentina to understand and explore its terroirs. However, I believe this is the only possible way to go for our industry to mature.

Malbec has become Argentina’s signature grape – why do you think it has become so popular?
Malbec is perfectly adapted to the growing conditions on the eastern foothills of the Andes. Its growing cycle seems specially designed for our dry, sunny, high amplitude summers, where it always ripens very naturally. It easily produces approachable fruit forward wines with deep colors, ripe fruit and a beautiful entry and mid palate. In appropriate conditions, it can also offer finesse and elegance.

Would you ever consider moving back to Italy – can we expect an Italian ‘Chakana’ in the future!?
I lived in Italy in my younger years. But I found I belong to Argentina. Chakana is a project dedicated to the land of Mendoza.

And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island with just one bottle of wine, what would you choose?
Obviously, a Barolo from the Conterno family.

The following wines from Chakana are currently available at Averys: Chakana Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Lujan de Cuyon and Chakana Reserve Malbec  2010, Lujan de Cuyo

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