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Welcome to my blog, which was once a mailing list of the same name and is still generated by mail. Please reply via the "comment" links.

Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

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Matetic Vineyards

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 14 Feb 2010 18:11:40 -0300

Yesterday we drove out to the Matetic vineyards for a tour.  It was a bit odd.

It's a fairly small vineyard, and has only been in in existence for 10
years or so; it's situated to the south of the Casablanca valley,
fairly far west (near the coast).  That means that, traditionally, it
should produce good white wines.  And one of the wines we tasted was a
good sauvignon blanc (under the EQ label).

However, when they started out, they also planted a selection of red
varieties, and found that the syrah grew well.  They aimed for a
light, fruity, style, with little oak, and apparently won some fairly
prestigious awards (there seem to be a lot of wine awards, and I am a
little sceptical of the whole business, but this is what we were
told).  So their top wine, under the Matetic label, is a syrah.  We
tasted a syrah from their cheapest label (sold as a "reserve", called
Corallilo) and I wasn't keen on it at all - lots of acid and graphite,
not much else.

Anyway, their wine can stand or die by itself.  What was more
disturbing about the tour were various stories about the culture of
the company.  Things didn't seem to completely add up.

We arrived early, and killed time walking around the beautiful main
building (set into the hillside) in a peaceful silence (the silence is
relevant later).  At the programmed time, more or less, the guide
started the tour by explaining the background of the owning family:
originally wool and mining; currently wire and meat products.  We got
the impression that the vineyard is a relatively small experiment by
someone in the family (currently running at a loss - the hope is that
costs will be less in the future due to the holisitic nature of the
operations; I don't know how well that will cope with increased wages
over the years - an organic approach tends to be labour intensive,
which is cheap here now, but getting less so).  Incidentally, the
"rich family" part is pretty normal for Chile - wine tends to be
produced by dynasties (or arms merchants).  At one point I tried
tracking who was who, with the hope of avoiding funding the worst, but
eventually gave up.

The guide then explained that the wine production was guided by
biodynamic principles.  At lot of what he said made sense -
particularly with the demand for organic wine - but some was just
plain weird.  Some fertilizer is made using the excrement of pregnant
cows, together with their horns, and some herbs, buried for some
number of months, and then mixed "in homeopathic ratios" with other
dung.  What?!

A more convincing story was the use of chickens to act as natural
predator for a certain bug (and their eggs - the whites - being used
as finings).  That made perfect sense.  But what we took to be
windmills were actually fans used (as in other parts of Casablanca) to
disturb cold air and reduce frost damage.  That doesn't seem so
sustainable (they were powered by natural gas).  And the idea that, if
the temperature dropped further, helicopters were also used, seemed to
be bordering on crazy - perhaps it would be better to not grow wine
there at all?  At least if you were so driven by the equilibrium of
the land...

Of course, a company must be pragmatic.  But then why so much emphasis
on the natural balance?  It was starting to sound a little like
marketing whitewash.  And it continued.

Inside the building was a central "cellar" where the "top" barrels
were stored.  It looked very impressive: rocks collected in steel wire
"cages" were used for the walls.  There was some talk about how this
increased the inertial mass of the building, and how the wire was an
"homage" to the wire company that provided the family's profits (while
the rocks reflected the minerals in the wine...).  On the other hand,
the same basic idea is used all over Chile - it's a cheap way of
making rocks stable in construction (and the building is built into
the hillside - digging out a bigger hole to fill it with rocks is
motivated more by appearance that "thermal inertia" practicalities).
What can I say?  For some people it's poetic; for me it comes across
as bullshit.

Continuing, we arrived at an underground entrance hall.  More on
circles and feng shui and the significance of the water running down
the far wall.  That's all jolly good, but the water was turned on for
us (the running water made a noise quite different to the silence we
enjoyed on arrival).  Is feng shui something you turn on and off?

And employees, apparently, must leave their world cares and worries in
this entrance hall when they arrive for work.  That's cool - I guess
they are supposed to focus on their job.  Professionalism and all
that.  But it doesn't seem to square with the guide inviting his
girlfriend to join us for the tasting.  Maybe I'm being unfair - it
was a Saturday afternoon, after all.  But what value do these words
have if they aren't reflected in reality?

As I said way up at the top - the wines can stand or fall by
themselves.  And the company can choose whatever method it wants to
produce them.  But I'm not that impressed that I spent money to be fed
stories whose connections with reality were, well, rather limited.

Despite that, it's an impressive building and was part of a generally
enjoyable afternoon.  I wouldn't pay a lot of money for their syrah
without tasting it, but would recommend the SB.


Corralillo Winemaker's Blend

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Mon, 15 Feb 2010 06:58:13 -0300

I bought a bottle of this, along with the Sauvignon Blanc.  It's
Merlot + Malbec and works really well (although it's more expensive
then the wine I normally buy here, so it's on the path of diminishing
returns / lower value).

Much better than the Syrah we tasted.


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