by Fred McMillin
for December 19, 1997

Winery of the Week

Hip, Hip, Hurrah for Tarapaca


How the Vine Came to Chile...

c.1523 A.D.—Early Spanish missionary Fray Toribio de Benaventa wrote that the first Europeans in the New World found near Mexico City "big wild grapevines...bearing many clusters of grapes. Some Spaniards make vinegar out of them, and some make small quantities of [unsatisfactory] wine out of them."

1526—Fray Benaventa reports that at a wedding of eight Spaniards guests brought "good jewels and much wine, the jewel that gave the most joy." However, it was difficult and expensive to import wine, so Cortez brought in European vines and intiated New World winemaking.

1556—The missionaries have moved the vine south rapidly and winemaking is well established in Chile.

...Tim Unwin's "Wine and the Vine"

The Rest of the Story: Four and a half centuries later, more winemakers are coming to Chile. Low land and labor costs are beckoning California vintners, seeking ways to meet product shortages. For example, Beringer has combined forces with a venerable Chilean winery established in 1874, Vina Tarapaca. Their first imports are 1997 (harvest is in March) Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, 1996 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. My tasters felt they were fine values, all at $7.

Just the Facts

Name   Vina Tarapaca (TAR-uh-PACK-uh)
Location   Maipo Valley, southwest of Santiago, Chile
Vineyards   1,432 acres planted in the Maipo, 148 acres being planted in the Chardonnay-friendly Casablanca Valley.
Vineyards   Suprisingly, they own no vineyards but instead purchase all their grapes.
Winemaker   25-year veteran Serio Correa is one of the country's most respected winemakers, with wine science degrees earned both in France and Chile. He visits California and France regularly, and now has frequent visits from Beringer's technologists as well. Recently he brought Viognier and Syrah cuttings back from the Rhone to expand his repertoire.
The Winery   State-of-the-art equipment has been installed during the last five years; for example, the 1997 Sauvignon Blanc grapes were cooled to 47 F. BEFORE crushing, to maximize freshness and varietal character.

Epilogue: Whence the name "Tarapaca"? In the 1930's, the co-owners of the winery divorced. The wife's lawyer, from the northern region of Tarapaca, pulling an upset, won her ownership of the operation. Hence, the name was changed to Vina Tarapaca. Oh yes, maybe winning that trial was not so much of an upset after all. You see, her lawyer was Don Arturo Alessandri whose other job was PRESIDENT OF CHILE!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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