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2017 Harvest marked by dryness and high temperatures

The season was marked by very high temperatures from the start, i.e., from September, which brought the harvest forward by 20 days.
With annual precipitation of approximately 300 mm (540 mm in 2016), the vines required early spring irrigation.
Temperatures were in the normal range in winter, with an average high of 21ºC and an average low of -1ºC.
Spring passed by almost unnoticed due to the high temperatures, 30ºC and higher, that had prevailed since September and set the trend for the rest of the season. In the previous harvest, maximum temperatures over 30ºC were felt only from November and lasted until February. Conversely, in this harvest, high temperatures started as early as September and remained until April.
The summer was very hot, with night-time temperatures higher than normal. The number of hours with temperatures over 30ºC totalled 330, compared with164 in the previous season.
Temperatures remained high until the harvest. The intensity of the sun’s radiation increased to 181.2 W/m2 which, coupled with the low rainfall, resulted in a very early harvest. The harvest started on 16 February, which is 20 days earlier than in 2016. The climate took a toll on yields, which were lower by 13%, despite the efforts to regulate thinning and thus ensure similar yields and high quality in the vineyards that supply the grapes used in Grande Réserve and Le Dix wines. In the case of Cabernet Sauvignon, the lower yield (8 500 kg/ha) led to higher concentration, which should translate into higher quality.

 

2017: A small crop but with concentrated wines of quality

Cabernet Sauvignon: the high temperatures just before véraison and during ripening led to early and rather quick ripening of the Cabernet grapes. The period between véraison and ripening was considerably shorter than usual.
Picking of the Cabernets was spread out between 15 March and 25 April. The Cabernets showed small bunches with small berries. The resulting wines are concentrated with a good level of tannin. The wines are driven by black fruit with some Kirsch and roasted notes. Very good potential for ageing.

Syrah: also picked early, between 23 February and 15 March, the Syrah wines showed a dense and deep colour on running off accompanied by a well-defined tannic framework, which will need ageing in our barrels from the estates’ cooperage. Spicy notes, but also floral, combined with notes of black ink characterise the nose of these wines.

Carmenère: it is a good vintage overall for our Carmenère, because the heat toned down the vegetal notes for which this grape is often reproached. The wines are dense, well coloured, the tannic framework can appear a bit angular in the wines from our youngest vines planted on granite; for the older vines, the wines are splendid.

Chardonnay: The Chardonnay grapes produced at Los Vascos contribute density and fat, while those from Casablanca, near to the Pacific Ocean, bring freshness on the palate and notes of white pear, pineapple, acacia blossom; the marriage works wonderfully. The Chardonnays were picked from 16 to 22 February, in other words 3 weeks ahead of a normal year.

Sauvignon Blanc: The Sauvignon Blancs have a pleasant freshness, despite the year being slightly warm: they offer notes of citrus fruit, boxwood and green asparagus, and are well-balanced on the palate. The harvests took place between 20 February and 15 March: almost a month earlier than in 2016!

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History

Grape vines were planted in the north of Chile in the 16th century, in the wake of the Spanish conquistadors. Production expanded rapidly and the country was soon exporting to Peru, challenging imported wines from Spain. The Echenique family, of Basque origin, planted vineyards in the Peralillo area of the Colchagua province around 1750 and in the 19th century, the same family was part of the rapid expansion that took place in Chilean wines, at the initiative of a handful of pioneers who were inspired by the French model. The first French grapes were planted in the Cañeten Valley of Colchagua in 1850 but when phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards, Chile’s production increased dramatically. Vineyards went from 9,000 hectares in 1870 to 40,000 hectares in 1900. The first exports of wines to Europe took place in 1877.

 

In 1947, production in the Cañeten Valley of the Peralillo region was reorganised and rationalised. Plots of land were cleared and prepared for planting, water supply and storage systems were put in place and cellars equipped with cement tanks were built. The “Cañetenes” wines gradually built up a good reputation. However, the land reform measures which came into force in the late 60s and early 70s put a stop to any further expansion.

 

Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) took over the Los Vascos estate (Los Vascos meaning The Basques, in honour of its Basque origins) in 1988. At the time, the property extended to some 2,200 hectares, of which 220 hectares were planted with vines. The pioneering ambition of DBR in Chile was above all the result of extensive research into the potential of local wines. Many properties were visited and many wines were tasted before choosing Los Vascos, because of its location near the ocean and its exceptional soil. Along with ideal weather conditions, Los Vascos benefits from intense exposure to the sun, adequate water sources, semi-arid soils and little risk of frost. At an average of 130 m above sea level and at just 40 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the microclimate of Viña Los Vascos has everything to produce fine wines.

The new era has seen some very substantial investments under the supervision of Château Lafite Rothschild’s Technical Director. The existing vineyard has been restructured, a programme for new planting drawn up and yields have been intentionally reduced. Water resources have been secured with boreholes and a weather station has been set up in the vineyard. The bodega has been enlarged and modernized in several stages in order to meet the new requirements in terms of vinification and maturing (stainless steel vat room, pneumatic presses, barrel room). And finally, a guest house has been built in the traditional Chilean style, enabling the estate to offer visitors a warm welcome.

 

For the wines, a period of transition followed,the grapes from the young vines abounded with adolescent vigour and during the early 2000s this wild “force of nature” had to be tamed in the winemaking process. Gradually the young Cabernet Sauvignon vines settled down as they matured and techniques evolved as our understanding of the terroir increased. In parallel, a detailed analysis of the terroirs with older vines enabled their potential to be identified and the Grand Vins to be developed: the Grande Reserve and, from 1999, LE DIX. The range also expanded with a Sauvignon Blanc selected from wines produced in the Casablanca Valley, a Chardonnay and a Rosé, and then the Los Vascos Carmenere Grande Reserve.

The late 2000s marked a new stage for Los Vascos, with a new generation of technicians at the helm, and the arrival at maturity of the vines planted in the 90s. The knowledge of the terroirs accumulated over 20 years has been used to refine the qualitative approach in the vineyard and in the winemaking. The decision to adopt large-scale drip irrigation and to grow more grape varieties have also brought new possibilities to the expression, balance and complexity of all the wines in the range.

 

The early intuition that Los Vascos possessed the potential to produce fine wines has been confirmed. Los Vascos can be more confident than ever about the strength of its terroirs. However, the pioneering spirit continues, and the pursuit of excellence requires passion and time. New high potential plots have been identified in the foothill regions: the technical team is already paving the way for the Grands Vins of tomorrow with new planting projects to meet demand.

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Vineyards

Planted in a single block, the vineyard is located at 34°30’ latitude and 71°30’ longitude, 40 km from the Pacific Ocean and 200 km to the southwest of Santiago. With 640 hecatres, it is one of the largest vineyards in the central Colchagua valley, at the foot of Mount Cañeten.

The soil is of volcanic origin, consisting of sandy-clay soil and granitic sand. The vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Carmenère (5%), Syrah (4%), Malbec (1%) and Chardonnay (5%). Given that there was major replanting at the beginning of the 1990s, the vineyard is divided between a group of 15-year old plots and another group of 40 to 50-year old plots. The oldest vines are 70 years old. The Sauvignon Blanc and some of the Los Vascos Chardonnay come from vineyards under long-term contracts in the cooler regions of the Pacific coast (Casablanca and Leyda) or the foothills of the Andes (Colchagua Andes).

 

Traditional growing techniques are employed.Drip irrigation is adjusted to correspond exactly to the vines’ requirements and green harvesting is carried out where necessary to ensure that quality objectives are always met.

The property is managed by General Manager Claudio Naranjo, with technical assistance from Vineyard Manager Enrique Marquez; and Marcelo Gallardo and Maximiliano Correa manage the wines and the cellar. Olivier Trégoat, Technical Director of DBR (Lafite) estates outside Bordeaux, provides technical supervision.

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Winemaking

Harvests are still carried out mainly by hand. For LE DIX and the Grande Reserve, the grapes are harvested into small crates to enable an initial sorting before they are placed in tanks. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are vinified in vats at low temperature to preserve their fresh flavours; they are bottled shortly after fermentation. The Cabernet Sauvignon involves close monitoring of the temperature in stainless steel vats.

 

Grapes from individual plots are kept separateto judge whether the resulting wine will go into the premium cuvées after fermentation. The wines from each vat are tasted several times in July and August, to ensure that only the best are selected.

LE DIX is matured in barrels (75% new) for 16 to 18 months and the Grande Reserve for 12 months in 60% new barrels. The other wines are aged in vats. The bodega has a cellar with 800 barrels, some of which come from the Domaines’ cooperage in Pauillac. Viña Los Vascos’ average production is 450,000 cases.

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