Risk Is The Business: Earthquakes, Amphorae and the Quest For Terroir at De Martino

“It’s not really very safe.”

Hearing those words, from winemaker Marcelo Retamal in a barrel area that is little more than a small warehouse on the Isla De Maipo estate of De Martino, surrounded by support beams that have been twisted and broken like so many toothpicks, and overshadowed by a ceiling that looks as though parts of it could drop on top of our heads at any moment without warning… well, let’s just say I was hoping that whatever gods dole out the karma points were forgiving me for my initial reaction of “Well… f*cking DUH!

In California, I’d have had to sign a 37-page waiver just to look at this building, and here we were traipsing about inside of it without even wearing hardhats. But this dark-haired, olive-skinned, brown-eyed winemaking guy had me totally at ease despite the less-than-secure surroundings.  Marcelo carries an almost ego-less assurance in his laid-back manner, no doubt a side effect of his fifteen-year tenure at De Martino (one of the longest stretches in the modern history of a country where most winemaking staff turnover is closer to 15 months than it is to 15 years).

De Martino’s current barrel aging area is, of course, a victim of the February 27, 2010 8.8-magnitude earthquake that in other regions of this long, thin country, had squashed enormous stainless steel tanks of wine as if they were empty beer cans at a college fraternity party. Our visit trails the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan by only a few days, and the resilient Chileans feel a kinship to the Japanese quake victims that is mostly unspoken but still palpable whenever the topic of The Quake comes up (though it doesn’t take a shared disaster for one to feel the emotional impacts of the devastation near Tokyo: one report, which told of parents finding the bodies of a class of Ishinomaki kindergarteners huddled together after their school bus was engulfed in flames triggered by the recent earthquake’s resultant tsunami, had me privately shaken and withdrawn). Chileans are a forward-looking bunch, and are quick to talk about The Quake, a situation in almost polar opposition to the way that they seem to avoid direct talk about their political past, referencing it only in the abstract (Augusto Pinochet is never mentioned by name, sort of like how Hitler never ever comes up in conversations in Germany).

We’re not here to look at barrels or taste aging samples, though.  We are here to look at Marcelo’s clay amphorae.  The ones in which he (almost crazily) plans to ferment and age País (the grape of low-end boxed wines) from the cooler Itata region in the south, using carbonic maceration and adding as little sulfur as possible, burying them in the ground à la how they used to do things in the Jura in Spain…

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The Stunning Views, Intestinal Flora And Strange Consultation Of South America’s Wine Lands

Vinted on April 6, 2011 binned in going pro, on the road

Contracting a vicious intestinal bug (the kind that requires antibiotics… the kind that makes taking Imodium akin to bringing a knife to a gun fight) isn’t usually taken as a positive omen when it comes to starting a new career. So it’s with mixed emotions of relief and ominous portent that tell you I faced exactly that in the early part of my recent (sponsored) sojourn to South America. I took it as a good sign, actually, since it “cleansed” my system just prior to hoping over the Andes from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina – where the beef is barbequed perfectly and there is plenty of it being offered to you. So the cleansing was more than just symbolic.

Despite the less-than-auspicious start, my trip yielded a ton of potential material for these virtual pages, some of which you will start seeing as soon as… tomorrow (where I will feature what I considered the best wine of the trip – why not get right to the good stuff, eh?…  did I just type “eh?”… what did I turn Canadian al of a sudden…?)!  I thought I’d offer one more “teaser” piece, which is a set of some of the more stunning scenes I was able to capture from those southern hemisphere wine lands, where the vineyard terrain is varied but more-often-than-not finds you smack dab up against an enormous mountain – there’s nothing else quite like it in all the world.  Words do little justice to the images, so – despite the fact that I am a far cry from being professional photographer – I’ll let the pictures do the talking after the jump.

In terms of offering this up in the Going Pro series: part of my “job” during the South American stint was to taste wines and offer what the organizers called “expert” feedback to the winemakers on the quality of the wines and their possible reception in the U.S. market (in my case, mostly concentrating on the East Coast market).  It was… well… it was simultaneously odd and surprisingly easy.

What I mean is, it was easy to talk about the wines – I love doing that (duh) and it comes naturally to me, especially now that I’ve got thousands of wines under my palate’s belt.  BUT…Having winemakers and PR folk hanging on some of my words was a very, very strange experience for me.  I hope it helped them – I can’t tell you if they thought it was entirely valuable input, but I can tell you that those meetings didn’t impact how I plan to cover the wines here on 1WD; as always, some of those producers will come out looking great and others… not-so-great (hey, when you invite me you gotta know what your in for).

More to come, of course – for now, enjoy the images and I invite you to share your impressions of Chilean and Argentine wine (and your peanut-gallery comments on my unprofessionl photos) before the deeper coverage starts!…

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Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America to American Wine Consumers: “HEY, F*CK YOU GUYS!” (The Case Against HR 1161)

Vinted on April 4, 2011 binned in commentary, wine news, wine shipping

I’ve officially had it with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America and their unparalleled ability to continually flip the legislative bird to U.S. taxpayers and American wine consumers.

Their latest ploy has been the introduction of HR 1161 – called, strangely enough, the “CARE” act (for Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2011″) but what I’d more accurately describe as the “SYFBWETBORA” act (for “Screwing You From Behind Without Even The Benefit Of a Reach-Around act of 2011″) – is, simply put, a colossal waste of legislative and taxpayer time and energy that could be spent on things slightly more important, such as reducing our national debt, helping to end starvation, fixing healthcare, or…

It’s tough to put into words how asinine this legislation really is, but I will try… for the impatient, I would describe HR 1161 as being the kind of legislation I would expect to be written by severely retarded monkeys, in so much as it promises to deliver a similar amount of potential “benefit” for U.S. consumers and taxpayers.

HR 1161 would basically amount to “exempting state alcohol laws from review under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.”  Which would mean that state laws governing alcohol distribution – no matter how potentially unconstitutional, anti-consumer, pro-monopoly they are currently – couldn’t be challenged in court.

How bad is that?  It’s bad enough that the National Association of Attorneys General have sent letters indicating that they do not support the bill.  Basically, the case for HR 1161 being unconstitutional seems to be quite strong – which strongly suggests that a lot of time is being wasted in drafting, promoting, fighting, and discussing it, because it’s (probably… hopefully!) unlikely to pass.

As a commercial body, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America asking to be protected from Constitutional commerce law is sort of like the U.S. Military asking to be exempted from ever having any of its members be tried for war crimes under any circumstances – we don’t expect that kind of behavior, but the threat of legislation and subsequent legal action at least is a deterrent.

If you want to learn (much) more about how bad HR 1161 really is, check out the on-going coverage of the details over at Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog.  What I will leave you with is this: the only logical conclusion I’ve been able to come to when thinking about why on our wine-lovin’-Earth any member of the U.S. legislative system would be in support of HR 1161 is that they are firmly entrenched in the pockets of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

And we know what we should do with politicians who are too firmly entrenched in the pockets of any big business group:

VOTE THEM OUT.

You can get started by joining up the movement against HR 1161 on Facebook, and by writing your legislative reps to let them know that you’ll be voting for their resignations if they support the bill.

Cheers!

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