Meeting Rodrigo Soto at a recent tasting of a group of wines from Huneeus Vintners in Chile, one discovers that he is a forerunner of a movement that is permeating the landscape of New World wines. This trend is organic and biodynamic farming and the vineyards known as estates he is cultivating are Primus, Neyen and Ritual.
His interest in organic farming began when he was at the Universidad Catôlica in Santiago where he wrote his thesis on organic pest control. This paper lead the way to his working with some of the esteemed leaders in the world of organic winemaking including Alvaro Espinoza, Alan York, Ann Kramer and Paul Dolan. His resume is filled with working at some of the top organic wineries including Benziger, which today is considered American’s oldest organic producer. It was in 2012 that Rodrigo was hired to convert four of Huneenus Chilean wineries and vineyards to organic and biodynamic farming.
This change is not only occurring in the vineyard but also in the winery itself. Rodrigo does this through his application of yeast fermentation. His goal is to bring forth a complex wine that expresses the Chilean terroir and showcases the best of what these vineyards have to offer.
Our tasting began with a 2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc. This was a stellar example of a Sauvignon Blanc and a favorite of the group. The wine has aromatics of grass and citrus while the palate delivered a wine that is softer than most Sauvignon Blancs. This softness gives the wine marvelous textures with tropical fruits and pear. The grapes come from the Casablanca Valley, a cool climate area on the Northeaster side of the coastal range of Chile. Unusual for this varietal, the wine is fermented in barrels and is aged 8 months in both neutral oak, concrete eggs and stainless steel. During this time Rodrigo stirs the lees every two weeks. The Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent example of the potential and excellence Rodrigo achieves with his winemaking and organic practices.
Also from the Casablanca region was the 2015 Chardonnay. A portion of the Chardonnay is fermented whole cluster in concrete eggs while the rest ferments in barrels. The wine is fresh, vibrant and well blended. There is a viscous quality with flavors of green apple.
The 2015 Pinot Noir is fresh and bright with flavors of raspberries. It is a medium-bodied wine.
The most impressive of Rodrigo’s wines is the 2010 Neyen Espiritu de Apalta. The Neyen vineyard is located in the Apalta region of Chile. This is the epicenter of old Chilian farming where old vines exist today. Most the vines range anywhere from 35 to 120 years. Neyen symbolizes the spirit of old citizens and in this case it is the spirit of old vines. The wine is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The thick skin of the Carmenere gives the wine it spice and fleshy textures. With older Cabernet vines, the skin of the grapes gets thinner making the herbal quality so often found in this varietal depart earlier. The wine is very fruit forward and exudes flavors of bright cherry making this a very balance and fresh wine considering its age.
Tasting on another occasion the wines from the Primus vineyard, one finds the same qualities that Rodrigo has set out to achieve. Primus 2014 The Blend combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc from both the Colchagua Valley and the Casablanca Valley. With a deep purple color this blend has very earthy aromas of leather and tobacco. The flavors are those of dark stewed fruit, prunes, cherry, licorice, mocha and tobacco. This is a think velvety wine that definitely could stand some aging in the bottle.
The 2014 Primus Cabernet Sauvignon is a very full-bodied wine with a nose of tobacco and leather. The wine exhibits dark cherry and white pepper.
As head winemaker for Huneeus Vintners Rodrigo is working towards achieving quality wine that shows what the Chilean side of the Andes can produce through the merits of organic and biodynamic farming. The wines are a testament to Rodrigo’s passion for wine and green sustainable practices.