Grape bunches on old vine
For the first time in a long time, the locals felt excited as they were on the edge of a precipice that was at once terrifying yet thrilling. The isolation that was like an iron-clad cage around their desolate town would be destroyed, and they would be free to connect to a wider world while also losing the safety of only being among the close-knit community of multi-generational neighbors. These hardworking and newly hopeful people lived in a sub-region called Apalta Valley within the region of Colchagua in central Chile. Apalta is shaped like a horseshoe with mountains and rivers surrounding it, moderating temperatures. In the local dialect, apalta means “bad soil,” – referring to the low fertility of the land, so, very little in the way of crops could grow, except wine grape vines. It wasn’t ideal as their yields would be low, but at least they could sell grapes to make wine that would be exported to Argentina, and a whole new opportunity would open up for the next generation, as they would have enough money to send their kids to school.
circa 1940: An electric train on the Transandine Railway between Argentina and Chile
It was the turn of the 20th century in the country of Chile, where the Pactos de Mayo agreement, combined with the opening of the Transandine Railway, would deter a war between Chile and Argentina as well as normalizing business relations that would include a free trade agreement between the two countries. But that would never come to pass, as the winegrowers in Argentina, many immigrants from Europe, fiercely fought the agreement, and in the end, it never came to fruition. Most of the 20th century in Chile involved instability within their government with excessive taxes and a tremendous amount of regulation that created insurmountable barriers, ultimately preventing the wine industry in Chile from taking off. And so, those low-yielding Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in poor soil – encouraging low yields of concentrated grapes within an area with a wonderful balance between enough sunlight and moderated temperatures, sat safely in obscurity until a well-known French family discovered them.
Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta winery with Cabernet Sauvignon vines and cover crop
In 1994, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, part of the famous spirits and wine Marnier Lapostolle family, and her husband Cyril de Bournet, wanted to push the envelope by looking for vineyards with a great sense of place, aka terroir; when they found themselves in the Apalta Valley looking at Cabernet Sauvignon grapes planted in 1909 that has survived a semi-dry Mediterranean climate without any irrigation, they realized that they discovered their great terroir.
It was such an incredible shock to see such old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, as in the wine region of Bordeaux in France, they are typically replanted once a vine is around 35 years old, and over 50 is considered old vines. It is ironic to think that a well-known French spirits and wine family would find some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Chile, especially considering back in the 1990s when it was not considered a premium winemaking country.
But Chile’s wine image would drastically improve with the help of Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet, one of the producers making Apalta an unofficial grand cru area with their iconic Clos Apalta wine and the premium lineup of their Lapostolle Wines.
Clos Apalta Winery
Coming from a family that courageously launched Grand Marnier – an initially criticized yet ultimately successful blend of fine cognac and orange-flavored liqueur, Alexandra was never deterred by popular opinion when it came to passion projects. Recognizing the potential in Chile’s unique terroir, she was unafraid of potential backlash from the French fine wine fraternity.
The key to success was choosing the right individual to manage their precious vineyards and produce exceptional wines. This is where Andrea León comes in, a seasoned head winemaker and viticulturist with diverse winemaking experiences in France, Italy, the US, and New Zealand. Eventually, her Chilean roots beckoned her home. Andrea’s deep affection for the land, fused with her artistic upbringing, naturally directed her towards creating a masterpiece from nature – wine.
Andrea undoubtedly appreciates collaborating with such astounding vineyards, particularly the uncommon aged Cabernet Sauvignon. However, she would not classify their old vines as the oldest of this grape variety, since there might be older plots globally. One such example is located in Australia’s Barossa Valley: Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Block 42, believed to originate from approximately 130-year-old vines. Another factor is their adoption of a method referred to as marcottage in France and known as layering elsewhere. Marcottage is a lengthy process in which a cane from a vine is buried, sprouting roots to grow another plant. This technique helps sustain these incredibly old plants, which lose about 3% each year. Hence, each plant is an extension of one planted in 1909, meaning it could be considered over a century old by some. Nevertheless, regardless of the technicalities, its manifestation in the wine is what truly counts.
This distinct section of old Cabernet Sauvignon vines primarily contributes to the iconic Clos Apalta wine. However, for excellent vintages from this valuable plot, another bottling under the name ‘la Parcelle 8’ is released within the Lapostolle line. As of now, only the second bottled edition for the US market, the 2018 vintage, has become available. Andrea highlighted that the 2018 vintage is one of this century’s “greatest cold vintages,” as optimal conditions allowed grapes to ripen longer on the vine. This process resulted in full maturation of the fruit and development of complex flavors while preserving acidity.
Sunset over vineyards
Looking back to the Apalta area over a hundred years ago, when the Cabernet Sauvignon vines were first planted owing to the inability of other crops to grow in the inferior soil provides a perception. Although it seemed like a curse, it turned out to be a blessing. Not only was the barren soil a serious disadvantage when food was essential, but Chile’s isolation also diminished prospects for a thriving industry to better the farmers’ lives. Despite being a strikingly beautiful area, it was difficult for locals to appreciate amidst their struggle for survival. The absence of a flourishing wine industry in Chile led to these vines never being replaced by younger, more productive ones. Consequently, when a member of a renowned French family, seeking the potential of Chilean vineyards, discovered the exceptional treasure of the ‘la Parcelle 8’ block, they did not hesitate to make a significant investment in Chilean wine.
And today, that golden-hued, saffron-colored horizon created by the sunset that seems to kiss the mountains in Apalta, is almost the same as that which desperate farmers gazed upon over one hundred years ago. But in those days, it represented the end of another hopeless day filled with backbreaking labor that amounted to very little. Yet, today, it is a breathtaking display of the area’s magnificence that fine wine connoisseurs worldwide appreciate.
Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon and ‘la Parcelle’ 8
‘la Parcelle’ 8 & ultra-premium ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ wines:
2018 Lapostolle ‘la Parcelle 8’
2018 Lapostolle ‘la Parcelle 8’ Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. A wine that balances power and finesse beautifully with the deeply concentrated black fruit that is highlighted by a mixture of savory, tapenade, with enchanting notes, violets, that is at once decadently delicious with flavors of cocoa powder, and aristocratically pleasing with aromas of cigar box, all laced with an intense minerality and finely etched tannins.
2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Franc, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: This Cabernet Franc ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ bottling is a new release for Lapostolle and it should hit the market in December of this year. Andrea León said that they have been very happy with how well their Cabernet Franc has been showing throughout the years, and that it finally deserved its own bottling; such an elegant wine with pretty aromas of jasmine with hints of blackcurrant leaf that has a fine structure with juicy blueberry fruit on the palate.
2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon
2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. Multilayered dark fruit with cardamom and anise seed spices giving an aromatic lift to the fruit that has fresh sage herbs intermixed along the silky tannins that give enough structure for an overall elegant quality.
2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Carménère, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 85% Carmenère, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah, and 4% Grenache. Ripe, juicy plum fruit from the first sip with complex notes of green peppercorn and crushed granite with nicely manicured tannins that caress the palate.
Iconic ‘Clos Apalta’ and its second wine ‘Le Petit Clos’:
Le Petit Clos and Clos Apalta
2019 Clos Apalta, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 70% Carmenere, 18% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot. An exquisitely expressive nose with rich blackberry fruit interlaced with delectable notes of blueberry scone that has a creamy texture balanced by bright acidity with notes of smoldering earth and sweet tobacco that has a long and flavorful finish.
2019 Clos Apalta, Le Petit Clos, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 49% Carmenere, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. Being the second wine for Clos Apalta, it exhibits a savory nose with hints of singed herbs and toasted cumin seeds. The palate teases with a round, alluring texture enthused with velvety tannins and a prolonged, aromatic finish that resonates with spices.
Consider these reasonably priced Lapostolle wines:
2022 Lapostolle ‘Grand Selection’ Sauvignon Blanc, Rapel Valley, Central Valley, Chile: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Its nectar-sweet aroma of citrus blossom and white nectarine makes this wine delectable from the get-go and only intensifies the taste on the palate with succulent peach flavors.
2022 Lapostolle, le Rosé
2022 Lapostolle, le Rosé, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 44% Cinsault, 38% Grenache, 12% Syrah and 6% Mourvèdre. Delicately pale color with hints of wildflowers and red strawberries with a dry, fresh finish that leaves notes of crushed rose petals and wet stones in one’s head.
2021 Lapostolle, Apalta Red, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 10% Carmenère, 7% Cabernet Franc and 6% Syrah. Pristine red and black fruit with baking spices and a touch of dried herbs that is round and juicy on the palate.