Thursday, 5 June 2014

Meet the man ‘Reinventing Chile’ - Sebastian De Martino

Sebastian De Martino is the fourth generation of the De Martino family to be making wine in Chile, a tradition that stretches back to 1934 when his family arrived in the Maipo Valley from Italy. Here, he talks to us about the journey they have taken in the last 80 years and how it affects the wines they make today .

For those customers who have never tasted De Martino wines, what can they expect?
Wines with a sense of place, that’s something that’s very important to us. They also need to have balance and a gastronomic essence. We don’t use new barriques; we use concrete, old barriques, 5000l oak casks, foudres and amphora even, so that the wines are faithful to their origins. So basically, honest, authentic, gastronomic, sense of place and purity. That’s what you can expect from us.

You’ve had a lot of recent press regarding your change of direction away from big, blockbuster wines towards this much more terroir-driven approach. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We’re now 80 years old & I think as a family wine company we’ve been through different stages. When you look at the great producers of the world they have a ‘house style’, they don’t follow trends. I think for a company like us, we’ve only been going four generations, which although is old for the New World, it’s still a new company; it takes time to look at who we are.

We’ve been through different stages – at first understanding  the terroir we have in Maipo, then expanding to different areas and old vines but then naturally we started to go to the other side, what we call ‘the dark days’ when we went to extremes – extremes of oaking, extremes of harvesting. Although we were getting very good ratings and scores, it got to a point where we were making wines we didn’t really like ourselves. My family comes originally from Italy, so you can imagine when you have a dinner, and you have a wine with an extremely high score and there’s a big silence and no-one can drink it. You uncork old bottles; you realise how balanced they are; those are the wines we really like to drink. So that’s what’s led us to the wines we make now with a sense of place, balance and purity. With this in mind, we always travel once a year to other wine regions; we implement a lot of new things & look at other cultures and also look back at what my grandfather did. It’s about moving forwards but also looking back. Now, with our knowledge & with better understanding of vines, we can look in the mirror and be very happy with what we’re doing.

You’ve been pioneering in Chile in many different ways and your slogan is ‘reinventing Chile’ – how have you gone about that?
The first is Carmenère - we were the first ones to register the Carmenère grape in Chile and bottle a Carmenère. Secondly, we put on the map different regions like Choapa, also pioneering work with old vines in Maule, Cachapoal and in Itata. All these things are part of it. It’s our core and we’re saying, look, Chile might be known for its ‘consistent’ wines but it’s much more than that; it’s about high altitude, it’s about old vines, ungrafted, dry-farmed, field blends, all this that no-one expects. It’s about shaking it up and saying here’s another Chile you don’t know and this is the Chile we like.

So, what’s next for De Martino?
The immediate work now is to consolidate in Itata. In Itata, you have old vines, granite soils, it’s close to the ocean and the wines are really balanced. Now we’re trying to really push that region as it’s the region where vines were originally introduced into our country, so we have a tremendous heritage in this area. Also, we’re looking to the south, to the north part of Patagonia but of that I’ll tell you more when I have something more concrete.

And what about the future for Chilean wine in general?
I think in every country, you have an industry for mass-produced wines and they do have a place, but there’s a risk Chile could become known for this & now is the time to grow up and show who we are. And for that we need companies where the owners are involved because there are not many family wineries in Chile and you need a strong commitment because it takes a long time. Being a family company is so important to us as it gives us that commitment and time to experiment and develop – large companies don’t have that luxury.

The journey in Chile is about looking at what makes us different and embracing it. We have the altitude with amazing potential, we have the coast like in New Zealand with Sauvignon Blanc, we have some limestone marine for Chardonnay, we have gravel terraces where you can grow Chardonnay, Cabernet, Carmenère; basically we have a bit of everything of the New World and also from the Old World too. But that presents its own problems in terms of building an identity and that’s the next part of the journey.

Finally, what do you like to drink at home?

I’m really open-minded. I drink a mixture of our wines, artisan wines from around the world and wines from our friends in Chile as well. I think it’s good to drink your own wines but it’s also good to drink others to open up your mind and gain a wider view of what’s happening.

Try out the De Martino range to see exactly what Sebastien, and the rest of the family, have devoted their time and passion to. These extraordinary wines really do need to be tried. Click here to find out more.

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