This winery produces Domus Aurea, an iconic, high-priced Cabernet Sauvignon destined primarily for export.
The winery is small, and the land around it is beautiful. The area is the Alto-Maipo Valley in the commune of Penalolen, far enough outside Santiago and high enough so that one can see the brown layer of pollution that clouds the city.
The terrain rises to a spectacular view of the Andes, snow-capped all year. No wonder people want to live here.
For now, at least, Vina Quebrada will retain its 26 hectares (about 64 acres) of vineyards, which yield the grapes for Domus and two other premium reds, Alba de Domus and Stella Aurea.
Forty years ago, the grandfather of Ricardo Pena, the attorney who owns Vina Quebrada, bought the land from Cousino Macul, planted food crops and reverted to grapes when those did not do well.
The winery building is small and not open for touring. “We put our money into wine, not into something to impress people,” says wine consultant Rodolphe Bourdeau, who offered to guide me through the property (he is at right in the photo above). And so there is no tasting room, no place to buy the wines.
Before entering the winery, we look at the 16 hectares that are devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines, leaves turning yellow now, were planted in the early 1970s. The remaining 10 hectares include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and more Cabernet Sauvignon.
The soil is littered with stones washed down from the Andes. The roots of the vines go very deep so that little irrigation is needed, Bourdeau says. Despite the poor soil, the Cabernets from this area rank among Chile's finest.
Temperatures during harvest can be very cold at night, hot during the day. This year, the harvest was late and long, ending just two days before my visit well after the middle of May. Winery workers stand in clusters, relaxing for a moment now that the intense work of harvest and crush is over.
A vineyard block is divided into five areas that are divided again into thirds according to altitude. Even a slight rise in the land makes a difference, Bourdeau says. To me, the rise is barely perceptible.
One of the young Cabernets that I taste from a tank is impressive, beautiful. Bourdeau calls it “the soul of 2008.” And he enthuses about the sensations of black currants, mint, balsamic, eucalyptus and fresh and brilliant fruits.
It is so good that I wish we could pull up a table and sit down to a lunch of cheeses, bread and this wine, which will eventually go into a blend.
For Domus, Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with small amounts of other varietals. Depending upon the vintage, these could include Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. "This place has a very strong personality. In a blind tasting, it is almost impossible not to recognize it,” Bourdeau says.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever taste Domus, because none of the wine shops in my vicinity have it, although there are distributors in the United States.
Internet prices range from $35 to $75, depending upon the vintage and the source. The price in Chile is around $80, Bourdeau says. (Fluctuating eschange rates determine the actual price.)
The latest release, 2006, consists of only 3,000 cases, less for Alba de Domus, and still less for Stella Aurea. And the company exports to 30 countries. Only 5 per cent remains in Chile.
A fourth label, Vina Penalolen is a smoother, easy-to-drink wine made from purchased grapes as well as those from the property. It is more widely available and moderately priced, around $15.
As soon as I return to Santiago I have to catch my flight home, so I can’t go to the shops where Bourdeau says I might find Domus. However, I do leave with a souvenir—two very small Andean stones that I found among the Cabernet vines—a much nicer memento than another T-shirt, engraved wine glass or logo bottle opener.