Perhaps the mystery of this wine lies in the unique genetics of the grape variety: the país grape has an incredible history locked up its DNA. Originally from Spain in the Castilla-La Mancha area, then exported around the world in the 1500s, it found its way to Chile in the ships of Spanish conquistadores (Robinson et al 2012:550-552). It also ended up in the Canary Islands, California, and Mexico. The grape has many different synonyms, including listán prieto and mission. País was most likely the first Vitis vinifera variety to be cultivated in the Americas, and it helped many of the first colonists survive. The grape spread over vast tracts of land as priests and religious organizations planted vineyards for sacramental wine. In the uncertain landscape of sixteenth century America, these early vineyard planters wanted to work with a dependable variety that could make a wine that would not oxidize or otherwise go bad before the next harvest. País' high levels of resveratrol make it quite resistant to oxidation, and thus a perfect candidate for a wine that could be stored for long periods of time under colonial conditions (Brethaur 2012:5). It's a hearty grape, with potential for high yields and an innate resistance to drought-- thus an ideal variety for the dry farmed, high-altitude historic plots in the Maule Valley's subregion of Cauquenes.
Louis-Antoine Luyt, a Burgundian greatly influenced by the philosophies of his close friends in the Lapierre family, ended up in Chile on a brief visit to learn Spanish. He ended up staying, and a restaurant career exposed him to the local wine world. He became entranced by the tiny plots and small growers who mostly sold their fruit to larger companies (Dressner 2012). What if the special plots could be vinified alone? What could be learned about Chilean terroir? He went back to France to study winemaking, then returned to Chile to see what he could do with some of the more interesting plots he had encountered. Starting up a winemaking business wasn't easy; but Luyt is quite possibly as resilient as the país he so loves. In 2010, a great earthquake claimed 70% of his production, and yet he perseveres.
This 2011 is the second vintage of Luyt's país project. He bottles three separate plots by their parcel names: Pilen Alto, Trequilemu, and Quenehuao. The Quenehuao parcel is but one part of his país trilogy, and with a collection of the oldest rootstocks on the planet-- dating back some three centuries-- the vineyard is truly a wonder of the world. Who was the farmer that planted the cuttings here sometime around 1700? If only there were a historic register for these museum vineyards. Just a few other vineyards on our Earth can boast such age.
The grape: pa s
The parcel: Quenehuao
Age of original ungrafted rootstock: 300 years
Winemaker: Louis-Antoine Luyt
Elevage: 10 months in concrete
aromas of pork sausages, dried means, and celery seed; a quite savory aroma. Perfectly ripe phenolics that make the acid blend right into the tannins and the entire wine is full but stealth. It sneaks up on you because not one part of it is screaming for attention. Intriguing to smell, and extremely pleasurable to drink.